Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Jordi Puig-Suari


This thesis outlines an orbit determination and 3-axis attitude determination system for use on orbit as applicable to 1U CubeSats and other picosatellites. The constraints imposed by the CubeSat form factor led to the need for a simple configuration and relaxed accuracy requirements. To design a system within the tight mass, volume, and power constraints inherent to CubeSats, a balance between hardware complexity, software complexity and accuracy is sought. The proposed solution consists of a simple orbit propagator, magnetometers with a magnetic field look-up table, Sun sensors with an analytic Sun direction model, and the TRIAD method to combine vector observations into attitude information. The orbit propagator is a simple model of a circular trajectory with several frequently updated parameters and can provide orbital position data with average and maximum errors—when compared to SGP4—of less than 3.7km and 10.7km for 14 days. The magnetic field look up table provides useful information from a small memory footprint; only 480 data points provide a mean error of approximately 0.2° and a maximum error of approximately 2°—when compared to the IGRF model. The Sun’s direction is modeled, and as expected, can be modeled simply and accurately. Combining the magnetic field and Sun direction models with inaccurate sensors and the TRIAD method results in useful attitude information from a very simple system. A system with Sun sensor error standard deviation of 1° and magnetometer error standard deviation of 5° yields results with average error of only 2.74°, and 99% of the errors in this case are less than approximately 13°. The system outlined provides crude attitude determination with software and hardware requirements that are well within the capabilities of current 1U CubeSats—something that many other systems, such as Kalman filters or star trackers, cannot do. It also provides an excellent starting point for future ADCS systems, which will significantly increase the ability of CubeSats.