What Makes a Reaction Wheel a Reaction Wheel?

A DC motor is the core of all momentum and reaction wheels. If you apply a voltage a, current will be produced which will cause the wheel to change speed. At the same time, the back electromotive force (EMF) will build up, eventually driving the motor torque to zero.

This is evident from the dynamical equation for a DC motor.

J\dot{\omega} = \frac{K_T}{R}\left(V - K_T\omega\right) + T_F

J is the inertia, K_T is the torque constant, V the voltage, T_F the friction torque, R the motor impedance and \omega is the angular rate of the shaft.

You can turn this into a reaction wheel by adding current feedback as shown in the following block diagram.

G is the forward gain. The input is the desired torque. This is divided by the torque constant to get the desired current. The difference between the motor current and the desired current is integrated. How do you pick the gain? If you work through the equations you will get this equation for the voltage, V

 \dot{V} + \frac{G}{R}V = G\frac{T_C}{K_T} + \frac{G}{R}K_T\omega

R/G is the time constant. The response is shown in the following plot. Even as the speed increases, the difference between the desired torque and motor torque is nearly zero.

Direct Fusion Drive Mission to Titan

Titan, a moon of Saturn, is of great interest to space scientists. Titan is the only moon with a dense atmosphere and clouds and with liquids on its surface. Universe Today reports on a masters thesis that proposes a mission using Direct Fusion Drive to put an orbiter around the moon. The thesis, “Trajectory design for a Titan mission using the Direct Fusion Drive,” is by Marco Gajeri under the direction of Professor Sabrina Corpino of the Politecnio di Torino and Professor Roman Kezerashvili of the City University of New York.

The thesis gives an excellent overview of nuclear fusion technology and space propulsion. The author then goes on to do trajectory analysis for the Titan mission using STK. He presents three different mission strategies using Direct Fusion Drive. He includes all of the orbital maneuvering needed to get into a Titan orbit. His mission designs would get a spacecraft to Titan in two years.

Princeton Satellite Systems and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Researchers Named 2020 Thomas Edison Patent Award Winners

Dr. Gary Pajer, Yosef Razin and Michael Paluszek of Princeton Satellite Systems and Dr. Samuel Cohen of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory were awarded a 2020 Thomas Edison Patent Award for U.S. Patent 9,822,769, “Method and Apparatus to Produce High Specific Impulse and Moderate Thrust from a Fusion- Powered Rocket Engine.” This patent is for a new type of nuclear fusion reactor that is compact, making it suitable for mobile power, emergency power, space propulsion and power. Images of a mobile version of the reactor, and a version used for a rocket engine are shown below. The work is currently funded by an ARPA-E OPEN grant. NASA has also funded this work through the NASA NIAC program.

The 41st Edison Patent Awards Ceremony, themed “Transforming Hope into Action” will take place virtually on November 12th. Contact Vanessa Johnson for more information about the event.

Visiting Planet 9

In 2015, astronomers from Caltech determined that a giant ninth planet may be orbiting the Sun. It was called Planet X and then Planet 9. The discovery was based on perturbations in the orbits of TNOs, trans Neptunian Objects. The planet has about the mass of Neptune and is in a 10,000 to 20,000 year solar orbit. Jakub Scholtz of Durham University and James Unwin of University of Illinois at Chicago hypothesize that Planet 9 might be a black hole. The orbit of Planet 9 looks something like this.

We used a semi-major axis of 700 AU, an inclination of 30 degrees and an eccentricity of 0.6. The plot shows the full orbit of Planet 9, but the simulation only shows 150 years of the other planets.

It would be very interesting to visit Planet 9. One way is to use a solar sail. The sail would start on a trajectory aiming at perigee very close to the sun and then accelerate at high speed. Another approach is to use a spacecraft propelled by Direct Fusion Drive, a fusion propulsion system we’ve been working on for several years. A 26000 kg spacecraft with a 12 MW engine and 2000 kg of payload could rendezvous with Planet 9 (based on the above orbit) in just 11 years. This is the spacecraft trajectory

Direct Fusion Drive is based on the Princeton Field Reversed Configuration reactor invented by Dr. Samuel Cohen of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). We have a experiment running at PPPL, funded by an ARPA-E OPEN grant, to perform critical ion-heating tests. Earlier work was funded by the NASA NIAC program. Hopefully we will be in a position to send a mission to Planet 9 in the not too distant future!

This analysis was done using the Spacecraft Control Toolbox v2020.1. Contact us for more information!

PSS Receives U.S. Patent 10,752,385, “Magnetic Dipole Cancellation”

Spacecraft with thrusters or instruments with large magnetic dipole will experience torques in a planetary magnetic field. U.S. Patent 10,752,385, just granted to Princeton Satellite Systems, uses a current loop to cancel the magnetic field of the onboard dipole. The patent text is:

“A dipole cancellation system and method may include a plurality of magnetometers for measuring a device magnetic field associated with a plurality of device coils generating a device magnetic field having a primary magnetic dipole moment. A compensating coil carrying a compensating current running a first direction that generates a compensating magnetic field having a compensating magnetic dipole moment. The compensating coil may be positioned and the first current may be selected so that the compensating magnetic dipole moment completely cancels the primary magnetic dipole moment. A method may use the system to stabilize a spacecraft by calculating an estimated torque of the spacecraft, receiving a value for an external magnetic field, receiving a value for a device magnetic field, and calculating and applying a compensating current may be then applied to the compensating coil to cancel the primary magnetic dipole moment, wherein the spacecraft is stabilized.”

For more information go to the U.S. Patent Site.

Lunar Helium-3 Return to the Earth

Helium-3 is available in the regolith of the moon and is a possible fuel for advanced nuclear fusion reactors on Earth. It would be extracted from the lunar regolith, packaged and returned to Earth. One question is how to return the helium-3 to the Earth. One approach is to use aerodynamic braking to return the helium-3 to a low Earth orbit where it would be picked up by the Space Rapid Transit (SRT) reusable launch vehicle and delivered to an airport where it would be shipped to power plants. SRT It is a two stage to orbit vehicle with a hypersonic air-breathing engine in the first stage.

The overall architecture is shown below.

One of the major advantages of SRT is that it can land and takeoff at any major airport. The first stage can be used as a transport vehicle. Since it is fully reusable and operates like an aircraft it is potentially much less expensive than vertical launch.

The return from the Earth involves launching the helium-3 tanker into orbit and then doing a departure burn that puts the spacecraft in an elliptical Earth orbit with a low perigee. As the return vehicle passes through perigee, aerodynamic drag lowers apogee until apogee and perigee are the same. This is shown in the following plots.

The first plot show the altitude from the Earth, the velocity magnitude and the drag force magnitude. The second plot shows the orbit. The last plot shows how apogee is reduced with each pass through perigee. It takes 10 weeks to enter the final orbit if the orbit perigee is 100 km. Note that perigee doesn’t change. The simulation uses a free-molecular aerodynamic flow model. For simplicity, it does not include lunar gravity perturbations.

Ideally, the lunar return vehicle would be brought back to Earth and reused.

The maneuver uses only drag. A lifting vehicle would have an additional degree of freedom since the force vector could be controlled.

This analysis was done with the Spacecraft Control Toolbox. The function will be available in Version 2020.2 available in early fall. Contact us for more information!

Hurricane Isaias 2020 and SunStation Solar Power with Battery Backup

Power went down when Hurricane Isaias moved in. Fortunately our customer had a SunStation solar power system with Lithium battery backup. Unlike other solar systems, this system has a transfer switch to disconnect the solar system from the grid so that the solar power system can power the house when the grid is down. The batteries provide enough power to keep critical systems going when it is really cloudy or at night.

You can see the system in operation here. The first shows the system when the solar power is insufficient to power the house.

The following shows the system with enough solar power to charge the battery and power the house.

Even on a cloudy day, you usually get enough solar power to keep the house running. The 0.2 kW load includes lighting, refrigerator, WiFi and other loads. This system has 14.4 kWh of storage, so it could run the house, without solar, for 72 hours.

For more information check out our SunStation page.

Toolboxes Version 2020.1 Now Available

Over 80 new functions and scripts were added in Version 2020.1. Updates were made to dozens of existing functions to improve their performance and expand their applications. Built-in demos and default data structures were added to many more functions. 

In the Spacecraft Control Toolbox, we added new tools for orbit control. The figure below shows a low thrust orbit raising starting from the ISS orbit and proceeding to a higher inclination, higher semi-major axis orbit. The controller also can change the ascending node. 

A new function, was added for animating spacecraft. The image below shows two spacecraft in formation.

A new function that provides the Keplerian elements for asteroids was also added.

Optical navigation demonstrations for Earth/Moon missions were added. this shows the centroid and lunar disk. The system uses a high dynamic range sensor that can see stars and the moon at the same time.

For operations people, a demonstration of one pulse nutation damping was added. Both roll angle and angular rate are reduce nearly to zero with one thruster firing.

The Aircraft Control Toolbox has many new features specifically added to support electric airplane development. This includes a new propeller efficiency model. 

Please contact us for more information! If you have purchased our toolboxes or updated your maintenance in the last year, the update is free!

PSS Awarded Two NASA SBIRs!

We are pleased to share that PSS has been selected for two NASA Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) awards. The SBIR program enables small business to engage in research or research and development funded by the federal government. The purpose of a SBIR award is to move toward commercialization of a product. It’s a great program that allows small businesses to get a product on the market without putting up as much of their own internal research and development funds.

For a full list of all of the awards from this round, you can go here: https://sbir.nasa.gov/award_firm_list/selection_nid/63001 There, you can see PSS alongside the other winners. More information on the SBIR/STTR program can be found here.

Our first award is for a proposal called “Neural Space Navigator.” This proposal is for research that builds off of our Optical Navigation System (ONS), adding a new capability to the system: Terrain-relative navigation using neural networks. This capability comes at a critical time for NASA’s ongoing lunar exploration program, whose small Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) landers are scheduled to have their first missions in 2021. In Phase II, we would work with Lockheed Martin (LM). LM created the optical navigation system used on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. Professor Michael Littman of Princeton University will be helping on this contract.

Our second award is for a proposal called “Multi-Megawatt Superconducting Motor for Electric Aircraft.” This proposal is for research toward a powerful superconducting motor for use in partially- and fully-electric aircraft. We are working with Superconducting Systems, Inc. from Massachusetts on this contract. There are some great ideas for ways to make aircraft more fuel-efficient using electric motors (see a NASA report here for some examples). This research will make lighter and higher power motors possible, powerful enough to propel large commercial aircraft, allowing some of the concepts in that report to become a reality.

This work is a spin-off of our nuclear fusion work, in particular our current NASA STTR (with PPPL) to study the effects of plasma pulses on superconducting coils.

We are very excited to be working with NASA on such interesting projects. The next step in the process is contract negotiations, in which the details of the proposed research are hammered out. If the next 6 months go well, these awards can serve as the basis for a Phase II SBIR, which awards significantly more time and resources.

Spacecraft Control Toolbox To The Moon

Today, I will discuss two functions in release 2020.1 of the Spacecraft Control Toolbox (SCT) which can be used to get your spacecraft into a lunar orbit. They are LunarTargeting.m and LunarMissionControl.m. They are demonstrated together in the script LunarMission.m.

LunarTargeting.m produces a transfer orbit that starts at a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) altitude and ends up passing by the Moon with a specified perilune (periapsis of the Moon) and lunar orbital inclination. Its novel approach to the patched-conic-sections model of multibody orbital transfers uses the solution to Lambert’s problem to target a point on the gravitational boundary between the Earth and the Moon. Then it numerically optimizes over points on that surface until the initial velocity of the transfer is minimized. LunarTargeting.m requires the MATLAB optimization toolbox.

LunarMissionControl.m implements a control system which enables a spacecraft to propulsively enter lunar orbit. Like the other control systems implemented in the SCT, it stores its active state and degrees of freedom in a data structure, and accepts a list of commands as arguments. The commands we’ll see used here are ‘initialize,’ ‘lunar orbit insertion prepare,’ ‘align for lunar insertion,’ and ‘start main engine.’

LunarMission.m ties them both together and simulates a spacecraft, down to the attitude-control level. The simulation includes power and thermal models. The spacecraft can be controlled by reaction wheels or thrusters. Forces from the Sun, Earth, and Moon are included. The spacecraft starts on the trajectory returned by LunarTargeting.m, then acts in accordance to commands to LunarMissionControl.m. It takes the spacecraft 4.5 days to get to perilune, at which point it inserts itself into lunar orbit. Let’s take a look!

A figure produced by LunarMission.m. This figure shows the whole trajectory, from Low Earth altitude to a complete orbit around the Moon after insertion.

Take a look at the above figure. This is the entire mission trajectory in the Earth-Centered Inertial (ECI) frame. We can see the initial transfer orbit as the red line. Then it approaches the blue line (the Moon’s orbit), and begins corkscrewing around it after orbital insertion. Let’s look at that insertion in close-up:

One figure produced by LunarMission.m. This figure shows the lunar orbit insertion.

The above figure shows the final part of the trajectory in Moon-centered coordinates. The red line starts as the spacecraft passes the imaginary gravitational boundary between the Earth and the Moon. It falls closer to the Moon, and at its closest point, fires its engines to reduce its velocity. You can’t see it in this figure, but that process is actually resolved on a 2 second timescale. The spacecraft is commanded to point retrograde using a PID controller, waits until it has pointed correctly, then fires its engines for a prescribed duration. If you look closely, you will see that moon has a 3 dimension surface courtesy of the Clementine mission.

Let’s finish this post off with some technical details:

On the far left, you can see the reaction wheel rates. They stay at zero for 4.5 days, as the spacecraft coasts. Then, when the craft is commanded to point retrograde for its orbital insertion, you can see wheels 2 and 3 spin up. Wheel 1 stays near zero; its vertical scale is 10^-16. Then in the center, you can see fuel use. The only fuel use is the insertion burn, so fuel stays constant until 4.5 days in. Less than 2 kg of fuel is used for this example, as the spacecraft is a 6U cubesat. On the right, the components of the body quaternion are displayed. Again, they are constant until 4.5 days in, when the craft is commanded to point retrograde.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this demonstration of how to simulate a lunar mission with the SCT! For more information on our toolboxes check out our Spacecraft Control Toolbox for MATLAB. You can contact us directly by email if you have any questions.