Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


College of Engineering


Eric Mehiel

Advisor Department

Aerospace Engineering

Advisor College

College of Engineering


As the use of small satellites for advanced space missions continues to grow, the importance of low mass and cost three-axis attitude stabilization systems increases as well, with these systems requiring high accuracy attitude knowledge. Star trackers provide the most accurate attitude knowledge of any type of attitude sensor, but the high cost, size, and weight of commercial star trackers can be prohibitive to small satellite missions. Many simple star trackers have been developed using commercial off-the-shelf camera sensors and processing hardware, but the challenge remains in testing and characterizing these devices. A common solution is night sky tests, in which the star tracker is held up to the night sky to image the star field and perform attitude determination. Commercial star trackers, on the other hand, are regularly tested with manufacturer provided star field images that attach directly to the sensor. These methods, however, severely limit the sky conditions that can be used in testing. Night sky tests depend on weather and can only image regions of the sky the user has access to, while lab-based testing uses the few provided still images. This thesis presents a hardware-in-the-loop star tracker test bed developed for comprehensive ground-based testing of both in-house and commercial star trackers. The system consists of a small screen to display a star field, a simple in-house camera star tracker, and a microprocessor. This test bed allows any star field image to be simulated. The system is set up for use on a stationary tabletop, but its small size lends itself for use with a spacecraft dynamics platform, which can facilitate testing of control algorithms using real star tracker output.