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SLAB's GNC Technology for Two Satellite Swarm Missions Passes Major PDR Milestones

By Nathan Stacey   Apr 12, 2021

SLAB reached a major milestone as two autonomous multi-spacecraft missions to which the lab is contributing passed their Preliminary Design Reviews (PDR). The Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX) and Virtual Super-resolution Optics with Reconfigurable Swarms (VISORS) missions are both multi-university partnerships funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). SLAB is responsible for the autonomous multi-agent Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC), which is distributed among the satellites of each mission.

The SWARM-EX mission comprises three 3U CubeSats with the intent to scale the mission to a global constellation of CubeSat swarms. The objective of SWARM-EX is to address aeronomy and space weather questions such as the evolution of the equatorial ionization anomaly and equatorial thermospheric anomaly. To accomplish this objective, neutral and plasma density measurements are recorded at different spatial and temporal resolutions through varying inter-satellite distances from hundreds of meters to hundreds of kilometers. SLAB's GNC technology provides the required agility, guarantees of safety, and optimal fuel consumption. On the other hand, VISORS is a segmented high focal-length telescope consisting of two 6U CubeSats separated by forty meters during science observations that will obtain ultra-high-resolution images of active regions of the sun in the extreme ultraviolet spectrum. These images will be used to investigate the heating mechanism in the solar corona. SLAB is developing a novel GNC hardware/software system for VISORS to achieve unprecedented accuracies of <2 cm in relative position control and <200 μm/s in relative velocity control during science observations.




More information on SWARM-EX and VISORS can be found in the following references.

Palo S.E., Pilinski M., Thayer J.P., Lohmeyer W.Q., Lemmer K.M., D'Amico S., Lightsey G.E., Latif S.;
The Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX): A New NSF Supported CubeSat Project;
American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting, Online Everywhere, December 1-17 (2020).

Koenig A. W., D'Amico S., Lightsey E. G.;
Formation Flying Orbit and Control Concept for the VISORS Mission;
AIAA Scitech 2021 Forum, Virtual Event, January 11-15 & 19-21 (2021).

Nathan Stacey is a doctoral candidate at SLAB