The use of small X-ray detectors for deep space relative navigation

Patrick T. Doyle, Demoz Gebre-Egziabher, Suneel I. Sheikh

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

4 Scopus citations


Currently, there is considerable interest in developing technologies that will allow the use of high-energy photon measurements from celestial X-ray sources for deep space relative navigation. The impetus for this is to reduce operational costs in the number of envisioned space missions that will require spacecraft to have autonomous, or semiautonomous, navigation capabilities. For missions close to Earth, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), are readily available for use and provide high accuracy navigation solutions that can be used for autonomous vehicle operation. However, for missions far from Earth, currently only a few navigation options exist and most do not allow autonomous operation. While the radio telemetry based solutions with proven high performance such as NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) can be used for these class of missions, latencies associated with servicing a fleet of vehicles, such as a constellation of communication or science observation spacecraft, may not be compatible with autonomous operations which require timely updates of navigation solutions. Thus, new alternative solutions are sought with DSN-like accuracy. Because of their highly predictable pulsations, pulsars emitting X-radiation are ideal candidates for this task. These stars are ubiquitous celestial sources that can be used to provide time, attitude, range, and range-rate measurements - key parameters for navigation. Laboratory modeling of pulsar signals and operational aspects such as identifying pulsar-spacecraft geometry and performing cooperative observations with data communication are addressed in this paper. Algorithms and simulation tools that will enable designing and analyzing X-ray navigation concepts for a cis-lunar operational scenario are presented. In this situation, a space vehicle with a large-sized X-ray detector will work cooperatively with a number of smaller vehicles with smaller-sized detectors to generate a relative navigation solution between a reference and partner vehicle. The development of a compact X-ray detector system is pivotal to the eventual deployment of such navigation systems. Therefore, efforts to design a smallpackaged X-ray detector system along with the hardware, software and algorithm infrastructure required for testing and validating the system's performance are described in this paper.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNanophotonics and Macrophotonics for Space Environments VI
StatePublished - 2012
EventNanophotonics and Macrophotonics for Space Environments VI - San Diego, CA, United States
Duration: Aug 13 2012Aug 14 2012

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X


ConferenceNanophotonics and Macrophotonics for Space Environments VI
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego, CA


  • Detector
  • Navigation
  • Photodiode
  • Pulsar
  • Relative
  • Scintillator
  • Spacecraft
  • X-ray


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