Formation Flying of small Satellites Using Coulomb Force

  • Published : 2006.06.30


The formation flying of satellites has been identified as an enabling technology for many future space missions. The application of conventional thrusters for formation flying usually results in high cost, limited life-time, and a large weight penalty. Various methods including the use of coulomb forces have been considered as an alternative to the conventional thrusters. In the present investigation, we investigate the feasibility of achieving the desired formation using Coulomb forces. This method has several advantages including low cost, light weight and no contamination. A simple controller based on the relative position and velocity errors between the leader and follower satellites is developed. The proposed controller is applied to circular formations considering the effects of disturbances in initial formation conditions as well as system nonlinearity. Results of the numerical simulation state that the proposed controller is successful in establishing circular formations of leader and follower satellites, for a formation size below 100 m.


Formation flying;Coulomb forece;Lyapunov stability


  1. King, Lyon B., Parker, Gordon G., Deshmukh, Satwik, et al., 'Spacecraft Formation-Flying using Inter vehicle coulomb force ,'Tech. rep., NASA/NIAC, January 2002, available online at httpv/ under 'Funded Studies'
  2. Hanspeter Schaub, Gorgon G. Parker and Lyon B.King, 'Challenges and prospects of coulomb spacecraft formation', Advances in the astronautical sciences, Vol. 115, pp. 351-370, 2003
  3. Khalil,H., Nonlinear System, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1992
  4. Sesha S. Vaddi, Srinivas R. Vadali and Kyle T. Alfriend, 'Formation Flying: Accommodating Nonlinearity and Eccentricity Perturbation,' AIAA Journal of Guidance and Control, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 214-223, 2003
  5. Hanspeter Schaub, 'Stabilization of satellite motion relative to a coulomb spacecraft formation', Advances in the astronautical sciences ,Vol. 119, No. 3, pp.2475-2494, 2004
  6. Hill, G.W., 'Researches in the Lunar Theory', American Journal of Mathematics, Vol. 1, pp. 5-26, 1878

Cited by

  1. Collinear Three-Craft Coulomb Formation Stability Analysis and Control vol.37, pp.1, 2014,