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SLAB Wins Competitive $1.5M Grant from the Air Force Research Laboratory for Satellite Formation-Flying Research

By Josh Sullivan   March 15, 2016

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has awarded SLAB with a highly-coveted grant of up to $1.5M for advanced research on spacecraft formation-flying. The award comes in response to a successful project proposal titled: ”Improved Dynamics Modeling of Proximity Flight Using Relative Orbit Elements” submitted by SLAB Director and Principal Investigator Dr. Simone D’Amico to the AFRL’s Broad Agency Announcement CoNGAS (Control, Navigation, & Guidance for Autonomous Spacecraft).

The proposed research responds to the pressing need of the Air Force to better understand and utilize the dynamics of satellite relative motion for close-proximity missions. The scope of the 3-year project (with an optional 2-year extension) is targeted towards developing novel, efficient, and accurate relative dynamics models for proximity flight that can be effectively used for orbit design, and Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GN&C) in a broad range of mission scenarios.  At the core of these developments will be the astrodynamics theory based on relative orbit elements (ROE) originally pioneered by D’Amico for applications in spacecraft formation-flying and far-range rendezvous of space vehicles. In addition to the theoretical developments, the project features a rigorous experimental validation in the hardware-in-the-loop facilities of SLAB and in the collaborator Dr. Riccardo Bevilacqua’s lab ADAMUS at the University of Florida.  The output of the work is expected to significantly impact AFRL capabilities by maintaining U.S. space superiority and developing key knowledge needed to efficiently design, implement, and operate proximity operations missions of strategic relevance.

The CoNGAS grant opens up an exciting new chapter of collaboration with the AFRL and University of Florida.  AFRL principal researcher Dr. Scott Erwin stated, “This grant will enable a strong partnership with SLAB that will ensure improvements to the state-of-the-art in relative motion dynamics for future proximity operations missions.”  With this prestigious and well-deserved award, the Space Rendezvous Lab is now poised to make its mark on the future of spacecraft formation-flying research and applications.



Josh Sullivan is a graduate student in Stanford’s Space Rendezvous Lab