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Formation Control Testbed


FCT Robot Concept
FCT Robot Concept
FCT Robot Engineering Layout
FCT Robot Engineering Layout

The Formation Control Testbed (FCT) is a system-level ground hardware testbed with multiple 6DOF robots on air-bearings with on-board guidance and control (G&C) capability for development and validation of Formation Flying control architectures and algorithms. The FCT will:

  • Demonstrate end-to-end formation flying system in a realistic hardware testbed with a large range of displacements and articulations.
  • Validate formation flying control architecture and algorithms in a realistic test environment with distributed sensing, communication, and computing.
  • Demonstrate key Formation Flying mission scenarios, including:,
    • Formation Acquisition
    • Observation-on-the-fly maneuver
    • Collision Avoidance.


  • Two, 6DOF robots with on-board avionics (H/W and S/W) capable of full 6DOF control capability.
  • Facility and the ground support equipment to support the operations of the FCT.
  • Functional and performance demonstration and validation of formation flying control algorithms and architecture.

Task Description

The FCT is a ground-based laboratory consisting of two robots emulating TPF formation. FCT can demonstrate formation acquisition, TPF-like formation maneuvering, and operations using the formation algorithms. To emulate the real spacecraft dynamics, the testbed design has realistic spacecraft-like dynamical behavior within the given 1-g ground test environment. With such dynamical and functional similarity to the TPF spacecraft, the FCT can provide direct emulation of spacecraft behavior with thruster and reaction-wheel based actuation and onboard attitude and inter-robot range/bearing knowledge of the resulting 6DOF motion. These architectural, functional and dynamical similarities between the FCT robots and multiple spacecrafts in a FF flight mission, like TPF mission, can provide a direct migration path of the FCT demonstrated integrated formation system to the flight system.

Goals and Challenges

Perform end-to-end system level formation flying functional demonstration and performance validation in a realistic dynamical testbed to cm and arcmin level.


Exploded detail of the FCT robot

FCT Robot Detail


The high-level FCT objectives will be achieved by accomplishing the following goals:

  • Develop a multi-robot hardware dynamical testbed with large angle articulations and spatial displacements capabilities in 6 degrees-of-freedom (6DOF)
  • Develop robot on-board avionics with spacecraft-like communication, sensing, and control capability using thrusters, reactions wheels, gyros and other sensors.
  • Use software architecture portable to flight mission, with capability to support flight commanding, and telemetry.
  • Integrate formation control algorithms portable to FF flight missions.
  • Develop and deploy a Formation Flying Technology Laboratory (FFTL) facility and the required ground support equipment to house the multi-robot FCT.
  • Demonstrate and validate end-to-end precision FF control architecture and algorithms in a realistic end-to-end system level hardware testbed.

Additional multi-robot and simulation testbeds are discussed on the Facilities page.

FFTL Formation Control Test Bed
Formation Flying Technology Laboratory video (make take a few minutes to load
Formation Flying Demonstration video
(make take a few minutes to load)


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Updated: April 29, 2013