Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


College of Engineering


Pauline Faure

Advisor Department

Aerospace Engineering

Advisor College

College of Engineering


With the advent of smaller satellites, along with the need for less than 0.1 μN precision attitude control for interferometry and imaging missions, finer micro- to sub-micro- thrusters have become an area of high interest. As thrusters are developed and ground-tested, it is necessary to evaluate their thrust performance on-orbit. On-orbit measurements offer actual thrust performance in mission conditions, free from ground facility vibrations and miniaturization restraints, and allow a thruster system to achieve a NASA Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 7-8. A review is conducted of existing and proposed ground and on-orbit thrust measurement techniques. Experimental gaps and complementary methods are examined along with the current thrust resolution limits. A novel fusion technique combining attitude determination, torsional balance, and filtering techniques is proposed to increase resolution beyond current on-orbit minimums, 4μN, via a dedicated sub-μN on-orbit thrust measurement mission. A simulated case study in the application of this measurement technique to a theoretical Casimir-thruster-equipped, 10-7-10-13 N, smallsat mission is explored. A detailed error analysis is conducted, and the technique is found to be analytically viable for greater than or equal to 10-7 N on a 1U nanosat equipped with sun sensor and three-axis gyroscope, as well as physically viable at a TRL 7-9 level. Recommended next steps are modification of the post-processing technique to decrease gyroscope noise and mass restrictions or exploration of suggested alternate methods, including orbit estimation, direct force sensing, and formation flying.