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

Formation Control


To support fundamental research and mature key component technologies of formation flying control, a number of proof-of-concept simulation and robotic testbeds have been developed.
Simulation Testbeds

Four simulation testbeds have been developed to date. The Formation Algorithm and Control Testbed (FACT) and the StarLight Control & Analysis Simulation Testbed (CAST) demonstrated the Leader/ Follower formation control architecture and a hybrid formation guidance architecture. The FACT also demonstrated formation rotation guidance for synthetic aperture imaging. The CAST additionally demonstrated collision avoidance during reconfiguration and formation actuator synchronization during interferometric science observations.

The FACT and CAST are based in Matlab and C environments, respectively. Both simulation testbeds address small, deep space formations.

The Formation Initialization Testbed was developed specifically to demonstrate the scaleable, guaranteed formation initialization algorithm developed by the DST Formation Control Task. This initialization algorithm is applicable to arbitrarily-sized deep space formations. The testbed resides in a Matlab environment.

Finally, the Formation Algorithms and Simulation Testbed (FAST) has demonstrated for the first time two-spacecraft precision formation flying in a distributed, real time simulation environment. The FAST has begun to address such distributed spacecraft issues as communication latency, limited computational power, and compartmentalized information (each spacecraft has its own flight processor and simulation processor: information can only be exchanged via flight-like interfaces). The FAST is co-developed with the Code S Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) mission.



Formation Algorithms and Simulation Testbed (FAST)
Formation Initialization Testbed
Robotic Testbeds
In the areas of formation initialization, synchronized maneuvering, and optical acquisition and tracking, a number of JPL robotic testbeds have made the use of air bearings and magnetic levitation to emulate flight like dynamics and operating environment.
Formation Acquisition & Attitude Alignment Testbed (1998), Synchronized Rotation Testbed (2000), and Formation Optical Alignment Testbed (2004)
Formation Acquisition & Attitude
Synchronized Rotation
Formation Optical Alignment
Alignment Testbed (1998)
Testbed (2000)
Testbed (2004)

The Formation Acquisition & Attitude Alignment testbed demonstrated rule-based control laws for synchronized attitude and relative position alignment for planar formations. The Synchronized Rotation Testbed (SRT) is another 3 DOF testbed, but whereas the Formation Acquisition & Alignment testbed has one rotational and two translational degrees of freedom, the SRT has three rotational degrees of freedom. Finally, the Formation Optical Alignment Testbed is designed to demonstrate precision optical control in a formation environment by using an operating interferometer as a payload.

Finally, the Formation Control Testbed (FCT) is currently being co-developed with the Terrestrial Planet Finder mission. The FCT is a 6 degree of freedom, robotic testbed with flight-like hardware, interfaces and computing capabilities. It will address all aspects of precision formations, including fault scenarios, in an end-to-end performance testbed.

Credits  Feedback  Related Links  Sitemap

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