Characterization and compensation of thermo-elastic instability of SWARM optical bench on Micro Advanced Stellar Compass attitude observations

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Launched into orbit on November 22, 2013, the Swarm constellation of three satellites precisely measures magnetic signal of the Earth. To ensure the high accuracy of magnetic observation by vector magnetometer (VFM), its inertial attitude is precisely determined by µASC (micro Advanced Stellar Compass). Each of the three Swarm satellites is equipped with three µASC Camera Head Units (CHU) mounted on a common optical bench (OB), which has a purpose of transference of the attitude from the star trackers to the magnetometer measurements. Although substantial pre-launch analyses were made to maximize thermal and mechanical stability of the OB, significant signal with thermal signature is discovered when comparing relative attitude between the three CHU's (Inter Boresight Angle, IBA). These misalignments between CHU's, and consequently geomagnetic reference frame, are found to be correlated with the period of angle between Swarm orbital plane and the Sun (ca. 267 days), which suggests sensitivity of optical bench system on temperature variation.In this paper, we investigate the propagation of thermal effects into the µASC attitude observations and demonstrate how thermally induced attitude variation can be predicted and corrected in the Swarm data processing. The results after applying thermal corrections show decrease in IBA RMS from 6.41 to 2.58 arc-seconds. The model significantly improves attitude determination which, after correction, meets the requirements of Swarm satellite mission. This study demonstrates the importance of the OB pre-launch analysis to ensure minimum thermal gradient on satellite optical system and therefore maximum attitude accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalActa Astronautica
Pages (from-to)205-213
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Spacecraft attitude
  • Star tracker
  • Optical bench


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