Better Commissioning through Simulation: How to Trust your Satellite Pointing Faster

SmallSat Poster 2019: David Gerhardt, Ph.D.

SmallSat Poster 2019: David Gerhardt, Ph.D.

Presented at the SmallSat Conference by David Gerhardt, Ph.D.

The on-orbit satellite commissioning period serves to incrementally build trust in the orbital asset, from first contact to calibration of specialized payloads. Often, the Attitude Determination and Control Subsystem (ADCS) dominates the commissioning timeline, as engineers work to:

  • Characterize / calibrate sensors & actuators

  • Tune filters & controllers

  • Upload new parameters settings / software

A reduction in ADCS commissioning time yields a day-for-day increase in operational time, which is especially critical for low-altitude small satellite missions.

Without a realistic simulation sandbox, ADCS commissioning is a slow march of trial-and-error limited by available satellite communication periods. In order to be useful for ADCS performance prediction, a simulation must be able to account for the following:

  1. Environmental attitude disturbances

  2. Internal attitude disturbances

  3. Non-ideal sensors and actuators

  4. Mission flight software

Fulfilling this need is helpful for both commissioning and development – it allows developers to predict the impact of orbital scenarios, physical configurations, and operational choices.