Evaluation of Coarse Sun Sensor in a Miniaturized Distributed Relative Navigation System: An Experimental and Analytical Investigation
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Observing the relative state of two space vehicles has been an active field of research since the earliest attempts at space rendezvous and docking during the 1960's. Several techniques have successfully been employed by several space agencies and the importance of these systems has been repeatedly demonstrated during the on-orbit assembly and continuous re-supply of the International Space Station. More recent efforts are focused on technologies that can enable fully automated navigation and control of space vehicles. Technologies which have previously been investigated or are actively researched include Video Guidance Systems (VGS), Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), RADAR, Differential GPS (DGPS) and Visual Navigation Systems. The proposed system leverages the theoretical foundation which has been advanced in the development of VisNav, invented at Texas A & M University, and the miniaturized commercially available Northstar sensor from Evolution Robotics. The dissertation first surveys contemporary technology, followed by an analytical investigation of the coarse sun sensor and errors associated with utilizing it in the near-field. Next, the commercial Northstar sensor is investigated, utilizing fundamentals to generate a theoretical model of its behavior, followed by the development of an experiment for the purpose of investigating and characterizing the sensor's performance. Experimental results are then presented and compared with a numerical simulation of a single-sensor system performance. A case study evaluating a two sensor implementation is presented evaluating the proposed system's performance in a multisensor configuration. The initial theoretical analysis relied on use of the cosine model, which proved inadequate in fully capturing the response of the coarse sun sensor. Fresenel effects were identified as a significant source of unmodeled sensor behavior and subsequently incorporated into the model. Additionally, near-field effects were studied and modeled. The near-field effects of significance include: unequal incidence angle, unequal incidence power, and non-uniform radiated power. It was found that the sensor displayed inherent instabilities in the 0.3 degree range. However, it was also shown that the sensor could be calibrated to this level. Methods for accomplishing calibration of the sensor in the near-field were introduced and feasibility of achieving better than 1 cm and 1 degree relative position and attitude accuracy in close proximity, even on a small satellite platform, was determined.
Coarse sun sensor
Maeland, Lasse (2011). Evaluation of Coarse Sun Sensor in a Miniaturized Distributed Relative Navigation System: An Experimental and Analytical Investigation. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from