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Initial Tracking, Fast Identification in a Swarm and Combined SLR and GNSS Orbit Determination of the TUBIN Small Satellite

Jonglez, Clément; Bartholomäus, Julian; Werner, Philipp; Stoll, Enrico

FG Raumfahrttechnik

Flight dynamics is a topic often overlooked by operators of small satellites without propulsion systems, as two-line elements (TLE) are easily accessible and accurate enough for most ground segment needs. However, the advent of cheap and miniaturized global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receivers and laser retroreflectors as well as modern, easy-to-use, open-source software tools have made it easier to accurately determine an orbit or to identify a spacecraft in a swarm, which helps with improving the space situational awareness in orbits that are more and more crowded. In this paper, we present tools for small satellite missions to generate orbit predictions for the launch and early orbit phase (LEOP), identify spacecraft in a swarm after a rideshare launch, and carry out routine orbit determination from multiple sources of tracking data. The TUBIN mission’s LEOP phase set a new standard at Technische Universität Berlin: the first global positioning system (GPS) data were downloaded less than four hours after separation, orbit predictions allowed successful tracking by the ground stations, and the spacecraft could be identified in the swarm as soon as the TLE were released by Space-Track. Routine orbit determination from GPS and satellite laser ranging (SLR) tracking data was carried out over several months, and the quality of the orbit predictions was analyzed. The range residuals and prediction errors were found to be larger than those of most SLR missions, which was due to the difficulty of modeling the atmospheric drag of a tumbling, non-spherical spacecraft at low orbital altitudes.