Guidance, navigation and control for autonomous R-bar proximity operations for geostationary satellites

Changxuan Wen, Pini Gurfil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


R-bar refers to the local vertical axis pointing radially upward in a satellite-fixed reference frame. Approaching a satellite along the R-bar, especially for rendezvous and docking to geostationary satellites, is advantageous in terms of safety considerations and flight time compared to other options. In this paper, a specialized study on autonomous R-bar proximity operations with respect to a geostationary target from a separation of several kilometers to a few hundreds of meters, commonly referred to as the closing phase, is carried out and a comprehensive solution for both attitude and orbit control in this scenario is proposed. An integrative design of the guidance, navigation, and control for R-bar proximity operations is presented. Impulsive R-bar hopping maneuvers are developed for the trajectory guidance. This method is shown to be passively safe and time efficient. The onboard sensors provide measurements of the line-of-sight, range to the target, attitude and angular velocity in the inertial frame. Due to the sensitivity of the sensor's pointing in the far-range phase, a sliding mode attitude control law is introduced to align the optical axis with the line-of-sight to the target. Sensor measurements are fused and processed by an extended Kalman filter. Simulation results indicate that the proposed integrative guidance, navigation, and control algorithms are robust to uncertainties and noise, and can be used as a comprehensive solution for R-bar rendezvous and docking mission design during the closing phase.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-473
Number of pages22
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part G: Journal of Aerospace Engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • R-bar proximity
  • Rendezvous and docking
  • attitude tracking
  • geostationary satellite
  • impulsive hopping maneuver
  • visual navigation

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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