Technologies for Formation Flight of Spacecraft
Relative Range and Attitude Sensor
TUI's SWIFT-RelNav Sensor is a RF-based system that provides relative range and attitude determination capabilities as well as intersatellite communications and timing synchronization for formations of spacecraft without requiring an external reference signal. The RelNav Sensor provides relative attitude sensing to better than 1° accuracy, range sensing between satellites to better than 10 cm accuracy, intersat comms at ≥ 10 Mbps, and timing and frequency synchronization to better than 1 ns, 0.1ppb.
Clusters of small spacecraft flying in formation may provide revolutionary capabilities for a wide range of applications, including interferometric astronomy for investigation of the structure of the cosmos, synthetic aperture radar for environmental studies, and military surveilance missions. Due to the nature of orbital mechanics, however, a group of satellites in orbit will tend to drift away from each other. Consequently, to hold the spacecraft in formation requires some form of propulsion. For some applications, rockets or electric thrusters for formation flying is an acceptable solution, but for many applications the propellant requirements would be prohibitive.
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