Aerospace Engineering Department
BS in Aerospace Engineering
This paper presents the results of a study conducted to understand the feasibility of CubeSat formation flight. The mechanism for separation and formation studied was differential drag, achieved by rotating the CubeSats to give them different cross-sectional areas. Intuitively, lower altitude orbits provide much higher separation effects. Although the most influential orbital effects occur with maximum and minimum cross-sectional areas, an attitude-controlled and a tumbling CubeSat may provide enough differential drag to meet separation requirements of a mission. Formation flight is possible, but due to the non-linearity of the system, gain scheduling may be the most effective method of long term formation control. Formation flight on missions with sun-tracking is also possible using the time in eclipse as the control time. Future studies will need to see how long formation can be maintained, as well as how significant altitude affects the total possible formation duration.