Navigation accuracy guidelines for orbital formation flying Academic Article uri icon


  • Some simple guidelines based on the accuracy in determining a satellite formation's semimajor axis differences are useful in making preliminary assessments of the navigation accuracy needed to support such missions. These guidelines are valid for any elliptical orbit, regardless of eccentricity. Although maneuvers required for formation establishment, reconfiguration, and station-keeping require accurate prediction of the state estimate to the maneuver time, and hence are directly affected by errors in all the orbital elements, experience has shown that determination of orbit plane orientation and orbit shape to acceptable levels is less challenging than the determination of orbital period or semimajor axis. Furthermore, any differences among the members' semimajor axes are undesirable for a satellite formation, since they will lead to differential in-track drift due to period differences. Since inevitable navigation errors prevent these differences from ever being zero, one may use the guidelines this paper presents to determine how much drift will result from a given relative navigation accuracy, or conversely what navigation accuracy is required to limit drift to a given value. Since the guidelines do not account for perturbations, they may be viewed as useful preliminary design tools, rather than as the basis for mission navigation requirements, which should be based on detailed analysis of the mission configuration, including all relevant sources of uncertainty.

author list (cited authors)

  • Carpenter, J. R., & Alfriend, K. T.

publication date

  • April 2005