JPL DESCANSO - Deep Space Communications and Navigation Center of Excellence

Formation Flying: A New Architecture for Future Missions

Co-Hosted by:
DESCANSO and Division 34

Presented by:
Dr. Fred Y. Hadaegh
(Div. 34 and 719)


This seminar presents an overview of future distributed missions, major ongoing research and development efforts, and in particular the key technology needs for formation guidance and control. Recent results in precision control of formations for interferometry and large space antennas will be presented.

Future NASA missions call for capabilities that far outstrip the confines of the single spacecraft paradigm. For interferometric systems, the baseline can be several orders of magnitude larger than the largest monolithic spacecraft instrument dimension. Formation flying represents a fundamentally new scientific capability that can radically change not only instrument designs but also the way missions are conceived.

Multiple/distributed spacecraft missions require fundamental breakthroughs in system architecture and supporting component technologies. The mission architecture can be implemented using two basic approaches: constellations and formation flying. A collection of spacecraft operating without any direct onboard control of relative positions or orientation is a constellation. Formation flying requires the distributed spacecraft to exert collaborative control of their mutual positions and orientations.

Guidance and control of formation flying (FF) spacecraft pose significant challenges. The spacecraft must come to within meters and then separate to hundreds of kilometers, use minimal fuel while avoiding collision, and perform precision synchronized motions. Critical FF technologies include: 1) a robust, fault-tolerant, and scaleable architecture for distributed spacecraft communication, control, and sensing, 2) a new class of distributed guidance, estimation, and control algorithms, 3) relative sensor technology to provide the inter-spacecraft range and bearing measurements, 4) precision actuator technology to enable fine motion control of each spacecraft, and 5) ground and flight demonstration testbeds to integrate and bring these technology elements to mid-technology readiness levels for infusion into future missions.

The Speaker

Dr. Fred Hadaegh is a Senior Research Scientist at JPL. He is also the Manager of the Distributed Spacecraft Technology Program (719) and the Group Supervisor of the Guidance and Control Analysis Group in Section 345. His research has been in the areas of system identification, autonomous control, and formation flying.

Viewgraph Package   pdf