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Electrochromic orbit control for smart-dust devices

Lucking, Charlotte and Colombo, Camilla and McInnes, Colin (2012) Electrochromic orbit control for smart-dust devices. Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics, 35 (5). pp. 1548-1558. ISSN 1533-3884

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Recent advances in MEMS (micro electromechanical systems) technology are leading to spacecraft which are the shape and size of computer chips, so-called SpaceChips, or ‘smart dust devices’. These devices can offer highly distributed sensing when used in future swarm applications. However, they currently lack a feasible strategy for active orbit control. This paper proposes an orbit control methodology for future SpaceChip devices which is based on exploiting the effects of solar radiation pressure using electrochromic coatings. The concept presented makes use of the high area-to-mass ratio of these devices, and consequently the large force exerted upon them by solar radiation pressure, to control their orbit evolution by altering their surface optical properties. The orbital evolution of Space Chips due to solar radiation pressure can be represented by a Hamiltonian system, allowing an analytic development of the control methodology. The motion in the orbital element phase space resembles that of a linear oscillator, which is used to formulate a switching control law. Additional perturbations and the effect of eclipses are accounted for by modifying the linearized equations of the secular change in orbital elements around an equilibrium point in the phase space of the problem. Finally, the effectiveness of the method is demonstrated in a test case scenario.