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Formation flying: a subject being fast unfolding in space

Formation flying: a subject being fast unfolding in space

Publication date: 06 April 2005

Authors: W. Xiang, J. Jorgensen

Journal: 5th IAA Symposium

With the rapid development of space science and technology, the possibility for multi-segment missions has lately received substantial focus. This is especially true for smaller spacecrafts, where they together form a formation, in order to collectively perform measurements that often surpass what a single big satellite can achieve. Satellite's formation flying is consequently a very popular but also difficult discipline of the world's space centers. Many new and exciting ideas are emerging in this area every year. This paper provides a survey of operational, as well as planned, space missions involving formation flying aspects, which have been developed by different countries and space agencies. From an analysis of these missions, by making appropriate comparisons between the satellite's constellation and formation flights, a synthesis aimed at reach appropriate definitions of formation flights are performed. Using these analysis the paper then addresses the several guidance, navigation and control problems that are native to formation flying missions. Finally, an example of system configuration (including space and ground segment), mainly emphasis on the satellite's attitude and orbit control subsystem, is given to illustrate one of the formation flying missions presently being under phase B development.

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