Breece Phipps

Major and Classification

Astronautics and Space Tech

Faculty Mentor

Paul David Ronney


Viterbi Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

Research Gateway Project

The Navigation and Control of Multiple Satellites in Formation

Project Abstract

Satellite Formation Flying (SFF) is changing the way the aerospace industry conducts autonomous science missions. This rising technology will provide new and innovative ways for space entities to obtain scientific information and share this information between spacecraft and ground communications while accelerating human exploration. However, many hurdles need to be defeated to legitimize the transfer of this technology to space. Specifically, maintaining navigation and control through attitude, velocity, and position within a cluster of satellites will need to be addressed to execute commands based on the required formation. This current research looks to contribute to the current knowledge of SFF by investigating radio frequency (RF) navigation systems to acquire accurate measurements. Radio Frequency (RF) models for satellite formation flying in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) are developed by incorporating the Earth’s oblateness and mitigating perturbation into fundamental equations that improve the navigation and control of satellites. Using two specific variables, the elevation and azimuth of each satellite relative to one another, a model can be assessed using the Clohessy Wiltshire Model. These models were tested using MATLAB to enhance the position of each satellite relative to one another. Each trial was then conducted at various distances to gather the rate of error accumulated. To visually assess the MATLAB models, the code was implemented into Satellite Tool Kit (STK) and applied to comprehend the system visually. Once SFF is fully developed, it will culminate in clusters of spacecraft flying and gathering significantly more data than ever possible before. In addition, formation flying will enable differential Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and innovative spacecraft autonomy techniques.