Vehicle and mission design options for very low earth orbit cubesats

James W. Williams, Michael I. Gray, Zachary R. Putnam

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Aerodynamics provide a small but significant effect on the dynamics of vehicles operating in low Earth orbit, especially CubeSats with limited control authority. Current analysis tools treat the translational and attitude dynamics of these vehicles in a decoupled sense. A coupling of these effects provides a more holistic view of the problem. In this work, various control system and physical properties of CubeSats are compared based on metrics of detumble time, total mission lifetime, and ram-pointing effectiveness. The control systems used are a magne-torquer with either a simplified Bcross detumble algorithm or a Quaternion Rate Feedback (QRF) pointing algorithm, or a set of reaction wheels using QRF. The physical properties examined are the total available control effort, the initial apoapsis of the orbit, the duty cycle of the control system, and the percent of eclipse in which control is active. Results indicate that a vehicle equipped with the Bcross algorithm will have limited pointing performance which limits the mission lifetime, while reaction wheels using QRF are capable of asymptotic stability around the ram direction, and magnetorquers using the same algorithm are able to provide nearly the same total mission duration, at a cost of worse pointing acquisition time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Specialist Conference, 2019
EditorsKenneth R. Horneman, Christopher Scott, Brian W. Hansen, Islam I. Hussein
PublisherUnivelt Inc.
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9780877036654
StatePublished - 2020
EventAAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Specialist Conference, 2019 - Portland, United States
Duration: Aug 11 2019Aug 15 2019

Publication series

NameAdvances in the Astronautical Sciences
ISSN (Print)0065-3438


ConferenceAAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Specialist Conference, 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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