Follow this link to skip to the main content
NASA Logo - Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL NASA Caltech


BRING THE UNIVERSE TO YOU:    JPL Email News    News    RSS    Podcast    Video

JPL Home Earth Solar System Stars & Galaxies Technology
Distributed Spacecraft Technology
Formation Modeling Formation Sensors Formation Control Metrology Thrusters
Ranging Test Beds Tethers Balloons Autonomy
DST Home
Task Objective and Statement of Work
Task Manager and Team
Industry and Academia Partners
Published Technical Papers
Testbeds and Research Facilities


Task Objective

The objective of this task is to integrate perception and reasoning capability into autonomous formation flying control of multiple spacecrafts by developing autonomy techniques for identified areas of research that would benefit from autonomy infusion.

Task Description

Formation flying involves the simultaneous and coordinated control of multiple spacecrafts. Future missions, such as Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), Stellar Imager (SI), and Submillimeter Probe of the Evolution of Cosmic Structure (SPECS) , require the use of dispersed spacecrafts having long separation distances to achieve necessary scientific measurements. Earth Science missions may utilize inexpensive, miniature, spacecrafts flying in formation to measure the processes and events effecting Earth. The Sun-Earth connection may significantly improve our understanding of the processes that occur between the Sun and Earth by employing a fleet of science probes flying in loose formation. The entire Space Science Enterprise (e.g. Origins, Sun-Earth Connection, Structure and Evolution of the Universe, and Solar System Exploration) derives benefits from formation flying technology. Unfortunately, current technology is not sufficient to enable the ambitious science goals of these missions. Thus, associated with these advanced missions is an unmet need to develop advanced formation flying technologies. One answer to this call is the advanced development of autonomy technologies with a specific focus on formation flying control of multiple spacecrafts.

Diagram of human brainThe process of infusing autonomy technologies into future missions is a daunting task. For autonomy technologies, especially at low maturity levels, evaluating its benefits through risk models and utility functions is not always sufficient to understand the science gains achieved from infusing autonomy into the mission scenario. To understand the role autonomy can play in the formation flying control area, we must first understand future mission requirements, and the issues that are currently unresolved in this area. Due to the perceived risks associated with the use of autonomy techniques, autonomy, in itself, may not be an acceptable solution from the mission perspective to exclusively address unresolved issues. Rather, autonomy can be promoted as a mission-enhancer. A technology that, when combined with classical techniques, can enhance and enable the capability of future missions. This capability can range from high-level control, in which autonomy techniques are linked in a hierarchical fashion with GN&C algorithms for low-level control, to fault detection and recovery, in which autonomy techniques are used to detect faults in the spacecraft operation and identify appropriate control actions accordingly. Autonomy then becomes a key to enabling future capability of these advanced formation flying mission scenarios.

Thus, our task objectives become–

  • To integrate perception and reasoning capability into autonomous formation flying control of multiple spacecrafts by identifying areas of research that would benefit from autonomy infusion. These include, among others:

    I. Formation Fault Detection and Recovery
    · Uncertainty management and data handling
    · Spacecraft Fault Recovery
    II. Formation Initialization



Credits  Feedback  Related Links  Sitemap
Image Policy   NASA Home Page

Site Manager: Dr. Fred Hadaegh
Webmaster: Kirk Munsell
Updated: August 14, 2012