Covariance analysis of differential drag-based satellite cluster flight

Ohad Ben-Yaacov, Anatoly Ivantsov, Pini Gurfil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One possibility for satellite cluster flight is to control relative distances using differential drag. The idea is to increase or decrease the drag acceleration on each satellite by changing its attitude, and use the resulting small differential acceleration as a controller. The most significant advantage of the differential drag concept is that it enables cluster flight without consuming fuel. However, any drag-based control algorithm must cope with significant aerodynamical and mechanical uncertainties. The goal of the current paper is to develop a method for examination of the differential drag-based cluster flight performance in the presence of noise and uncertainties. In particular, the differential drag control law is examined under measurement noise, drag uncertainties, and initial condition-related uncertainties. The method used for uncertainty quantification is the Linear Covariance Analysis, which enables us to propagate the augmented state and filter covariance without propagating the state itself. Validation using a Monte-Carlo simulation is provided. The results show that all uncertainties have relatively small effect on the inter-satellite distance, even in the long term, which validates the robustness of the used differential drag controller.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-396
Number of pages10
JournalActa Astronautica
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Astrodynamics
  • Cluster flight
  • Covariance analysis
  • Differential drag
  • Uncertainty

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering


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