Advancements in the Design and Development of CubeSat Attitude Determination and Control Testing at the Virginia Tech Space Systems Simulation Laboratory

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Virginia Tech


Among the various challenges involved in the development of CubeSats lies the attitude determination and control of the satellite. The importance of a properly functioning attitude determination and control system (ADCS) on any satellite is vital to the satisfaction of its mission objectives. Due to this importance, three-axis attitude control simulators are commonly used to test and validate spacecraft attitude control systems before flight. However, these systems are generally too large to successfully test the attitude control systems on-board CubeSat-class satellites. Due to their low cost and rapid development time, CubeSats have become an increasingly popular platform used in the study of space science and engineering research. As an increasing number of universities and industries take part in this new approach to small-satellite development, the demand to properly test, verify, and validate their attitude control systems will continue to increase. An approach to CubeSat attitude determination and control simulation is in development at the Virginia Tech Space Systems Simulation Laboratory. The final test setup will consist of an air bearing platform placed inside a square Helmholtz cage. The Helmholtz cage will provide an adjustable magnetic field to simulate that of a low earth orbit (LEO), and the spherical air bearing will simulate the frictionless environment of space. In conjunction, the two simulators will provide an inexpensive and adjustable system for testing any current, and future, CubeSat ADCS prior to flight. Using commercial off the shelf (COTS) components, the Virginia Tech CubeSat Attitude Control Simulator (CSACS), which is a low cost, lightweight air bearing testing platform, will be coupled with a 1.5-m-long square Helmholtz cage design in order to provide a simulated LEO environment for CubeSat ADCS validation.



CubeSat, Attitude Control, Air Bearing, Reaction Wheel Array, Helmholtz Cage