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Small spacecraft formation-flying using potential functions

Badawy, Ahmed and McInnes, C.R. (2009) Small spacecraft formation-flying using potential functions. Acta Astronautica, 65 (11-12). pp. 1783-1788. ISSN 0094-5765

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A group of small spacecraft able to change its orbital formation through using the potential function is discussed. Spacecraft shapes, sizes and manoeuvering capabilities in general are not identical. All objects are assumed to manoeuver under discrete thruster effects. A hyperbolic form of attractive potential function is then used to reduce the control intervention by using the natural orbital motion for approaching goal configuration. A superquadratic repulsive potential with 3D rigid object representation is then used to have more accurate mutual sensing between objects. As spacecraft start away from their goals, the original parabolic attractive potential becomes inefficient as the continuous control force increases with distance linearly. The hyperbolic attractive potential offers good representation of the control force independent of the distance to goal, ensuring global stability as well.