Small spacecraft formation-flying using potential functions

Ahmed Badawy, Colin R. McInnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
46 Downloads (Pure)


A group of small spacecraft able to change its orbital formation through using the potential function is discussed. Spacecraft shapes, sizes and manoeuvering capabilities in general are not identical. All objects are assumed to manoeuver under discrete thruster effects. A hyperbolic form of attractive potential function is then used to reduce the control intervention by using the natural orbital motion for approaching goal configuration. A superquadratic repulsive potential with 3D rigid object representation is then used to have more accurate mutual sensing between objects. As spacecraft start away from their goals, the original parabolic attractive potential becomes inefficient as the continuous control force increases with distance linearly. The hyperbolic attractive potential offers good representation of the control force independent of the distance to goal, ensuring global stability as well.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1783-1788
Number of pages6
JournalActa Astronautica
Issue number11-12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


  • spacecraft
  • potential function
  • formation flying
  • solar sails


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