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IEEE : Navigation for Small Spacecraft in Deep Space using Pulsars

August 4, 2021 @ 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Talk By Demoz Gebre-Egziabher, PhD., Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus

Signal of Opportunity Navigation for Small Spacecraft in Deep Space

This talk was originally scheduled for June 9, 2021, but because of the extreme heat that day the talk has been rescheduled for August 4th at 4:30 PM.  The forecast is for a high of 79 degrees on the 4th.

Navigation is an issue for a small spacecraft that has left this solar system, but time of travel to a distant object is also an issue.  Our speaker noted in correspondence that “It took 9+ years for New Horizons to reach Pluto so the nearest star would be 4,500 years of travel.”  This talk covers the issue of navigation.

Spacecraft navigation outside of geosynchronous orbit (GEO) presents an ongoing challenge.   Current navigational techniques rely on Earth-based tracking, particularly through NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN).  Navigation via the DSN is both fundamentally limited in terms of accuracy, as well as practically limited in terms of availability.  Navigation via naturally occurring signals of opportunity, such as those produced by pulsars, quasars, and gamma-ray bursts, is proposed as an alternative navigation technique that could augment or eventually replace navigation via the DSN.  This technique involves making range measurements based on the time-difference of arrival (TDOA) of a signal at the user and another location, usually either another cooperating user or a fixed reference point.  Estimating the value of the TDOA is challenging, particularly because the signals in question are usually extremely weak.  In this talk we describe algorithms for generating a 6 degree of freedom of freedom position, navigation and timing solution in deep space by measuring the time and angle of arrival of x-rays from pulsars.  We also demonstrate their performance by post-processing data collected by x-ray detectors on the Suzaku and Chandra missions.


  • Date: 04 Aug 2021
  • Time: 04:30 PM to 05:30 PM
  • All times are America/Chicago
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Join Zoom Meeting https://umn.zoom.us/j/98345208135

Meeting ID: 983 4520 8135



August 4, 2021
4:30 pm - 5:30 pm
Event Category:


Twin Cities Section Jt. Chapter, SP01/COM19


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