XACT Satellite Control

Pushing the boundaries of what mini space satellites can do.

7 Ratings

You have created a technology that predicts atmospheric disturbance to GPS data. GPS is used by thousands of defense department personnel and your technology could make a real difference to their work. The only hitch? The device needs to be in space. Current micro satellites aren't able to provide the pointing accuracy you need. Limited funding and limited launch availability prevent the use of larger satellites. You need a more capable small satellite to get your project off the ground.

THE CHALLENGE

A combat soldier surveys a mountainous terrain. He needs to know what awaits him over the next hill. A constellation of quickly deployed nano-satellites receive his command. The imaging satellite overhead rapidly and precisely points a camera in the direction of the mountainous region and sends that picture to the soldier. The soldier is then able to review a clear picture of the exact location ahead. The XACT system is the enabling technology that allows the satellite to move quickly, point steadily, and point precisely at a specific location on the ground. Current CubeSats are incapable of this precision. But XACT is taking the small satellite to a whole new level of capability.

WHY IT MATTERS

Currently, nano-sized satellites called CubeSats have limited three-axis stabilization and do not provide adequate pointing to meet mission data requirements. Many programs that need precision pointing capability have been driven to acquire rides on larger spacecraft or purchase a larger spacecraft bus. These alternatives are more costly and more difficult to procure on a timely basis. The current capability for CubeSats is confined to low performing attitude sensors and actuators that provide a pointing capability to at best within 1 degree of the desired location. A resolution of 1 degree, while looking at the earth from space, can result in many kilometers of error. Many missions require pointing accuracy to be a small fraction of that error.

THE SOLUTION

From past experience, engineers at Blue Canyon Technologies were aware of the capability of larger spacecraft systems and components. BCT needed to find a way to somehow fit that capability into a miniaturized package. By using recently available, off the shelf micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) components, along with the development of custom reaction wheel motors, and a new light extinction baffle design, BCT was able to create the XACT CubeSat attitude control system.

"We were able to develop a high performance, miniature star tracker for XACT, which is smaller and more capable than almost any existing tracker on the market." — Daniel Hegel

HOW IT WORKS

The XACT system is a reliable CubeSat attitude control unit compatible with a variety of configurations and missions. The highly integrated XACT architecture leverages a powerful processing core with BCT’s micro-Star Tracker and micro-Reaction Wheel assemblies to enable a new generation of highly capable, miniaturized spacecraft. XACT features 3-axis stellar attitude determination in a micro-package. Built-in flexible commanding allows for multiple pointing reference frames: local vertical local horizontal, earth-fixed, inertial, and solar. The XACT system sensors include: a Star Tracker, inertial measurement unit, sun sensor, magnetometer, and an optional GPS unit. Software is available to support simulation, system integration, and customization of the ADCS functionality. The XACT control capability provides a remarkable ± 0.003º pointing ability in a low cost platform, creating the opportunity for a multitude of new missions.

IMPACT FOR THE FUTURE

The XACT system is planned for use in support of multiple missions for the Air Force. The system will enable the Air Force to provide more accurate and more reliable data concerning a wide variety of missions, including: space weather (making existing signals from satellites like GPS more useful), imaging (making images from space clearer and easier to obtain), and ground weather (a more cost effective method of gathering ground weather information).

XACT provides a low cost, high performance capability for small satellites that enables opportunities for a wide range of new missions, including commercial, civil, and defense related enterprises. — George Stafford, President at Blue Canyon Technologies

Blue Canyon Technologies

www.bluecanyontech.com

Boulder, CO

Blue Canyon Technologies is a small business specializing in micro spacecraft bus and component design and development. Our founders have over 100 years of combined experience designing and building spacecraft for the DOD, NASA, and commercial aerospace organizations.

George  Stafford George  Stafford

George Stafford

President

Matthew  Beckner Matthew  Beckner

Matthew Beckner

Lead Systems Engineer

Daniel Hegel Daniel Hegel

Daniel Hegel

Lead GN&C Engineer

TOPIC TITLE:

Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS) for CubeSats

TOPIC NUMBER:

AF103-083

CONTRACT NUMBER:

FA9453-12-C-0104

For more exciting Air Force launch stories, visit launchstories.org

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