Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Hanspeter Schaub

Second Advisor

George Born

Third Advisor

Michael McGrath


Relative orbital motion is a topic of interest to programs developing vehicles for formation flight applications such as remote inspection or autonomous rendezvous and docking. High-accuracy laboratory systems for such simulations can be costly to operate, requiring expensive hardware and extensive development for a specific simulation. This thesis details the development of a framework at the Autonomous Vehicle Systems Laboratory (AVSLab) at the University of Colorado at Boulder which utilizes relatively low-cost commercial hardware for medium-fidelity low-cost relative orbit simulation. The simulation framework provides a modular approach to building simulations along with tools to reduce the required simulation development effort. The framework integrates existing software modules to control a wheeled robotic vehicle and two-axis camera mount to simulate space vehicles in near-planar motion, and provides emulation of hardware, including hardware for which no previous virtual equivalent was available, in a hybrid real/virtual environment for faster simulation and scalability to larger formations. A demonstration simulation of 3D visual tracking and relative orbit propagation and navigation around a target is created to showcase the capabilities of the framework and typical usage. Results from the simulation are presented, showing the performance of implementing the simulated physics as well as providing insight into the performance of the simulated satellite's control algorithm.