Attitude Optimization to Increase Scientific Data Returned from the EXACT and IMPRESS CubeSats

Athanasios Pantazides, Demoz Gebre-Egziabher

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


This paper presents a method to improve mission performance for Cube Satellites (CubeSats) with scientific missions. The proposed approach proactively plans slew maneuvers which trade mission objectives against power constraints. There are many scientific CubeSat missions which require pointing a sensor payload at a target in space. During the design phase of these missions there exists a trade-off between ambitious missions with many pointing targets, and hardware cost. In the past, many CubeSats have used naive event-triggered mode switching-e.g. slewing towards a ground station for downlinking only when it becomes visible rather than in advance-which serves to reduce the total amount of scientific data transmitted to the ground over the mission lifetime. In this work, we develop a mission planning method that maximizes data volume downlinked over attitude history. We formulate the optimization problem as an integer program over the space of attitude histories and subject to battery level constraints. The optimal solution is an attitude sequence that can be used as a reference for a low-level controller to track. We demonstrate the approach using simulated data for the upcoming CubeSat EXACT, which has a celestial scientific target in addition to requiring ground-pointing for data transmission and Sun-pointing for power. Extensions of the work to benefit the related CubeSat IMPRESS are also discussed. Using the quality metric of total data volume received on the ground, we demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach in maximizing downloaded science data while maintaining the battery within operating limits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
ISBN (Electronic)9781728174365
StatePublished - Mar 6 2021
Event2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021 - Big Sky, United States
Duration: Mar 6 2021Mar 13 2021

Publication series

NameIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1095-323X


Conference2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBig Sky

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the National Science Foundation for supporting this project. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1841006 and the United States Airforce though the University Nanosat Program (UNP). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the United States Airforce.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 IEEE.


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