Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT Space Systems Lab


  About DMSE



Current flight projects



The Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) formation flight testbed will provide the Air Force and NASA with a long term, replenishable, and upgradable testbed for the validation of high risk control, metrology, and autonomy technologies. The technologies are critical to the operation of distributed satellite and docking missions such as TechSat21, Starlight, Terrestrial Planet Finder, and Orbital Express.

To approximate the dynamics presented by these missions, the testbed consists of three microsatellites, or "spheres," which can control their relative positions and orientations, and is operable on a 2-D laboratory platform, NASA's KC-135, and the International Space Station. The testbed is being developed jointly by the MIT Space Systems Laboratory and Aurora Flight Sciences, with funding from the Department of Defense and several NASA centers. SPHERES is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on Space Shuttle flight STS-116.



Current ground projects

Electromagnetic Formation Flight (EMFF)

Electromagnetic Formation Flight. Until now, traditional thrusters have been proposed for formation flight attitude and positional control. However, there are several concerns with the use of thrusters, including plume contamination of neighboring spacecraft and sensitive optics, and the use of fuel as a nonrenewable energy source. Rather than thrusters, electromagnets could be used for formation flight control. Electromagnetic formation flight control has the potential to:

  • Eliminate concerns about thruster plume impingement and optics contamination
  • Control relative degrees of freedom, as opposed to the inertial degrees of freedom controlled by thrusters, and
  • Rely on electricity provided by solar arrays, a renewable energy source, as opposed to thrusters whose finite fuel supply often limits the life of the spacecraft.

The objective of this research is to demonstrate the feasibility of an electromagnetically controlled array of formation flying satellites.


Distributed Satellite Systems

DSS The Distributed Satellite Systems (DSS) program employs systems analysis and specialized dynamic modeling concurrently with experimental work. Satellite formations in low Earth orbit encounter perturbing gravitational forces due to deviations from spherical in the Earth's shape. MIT Space Systems Laboratory researchers are working on ways to linearize the models of these effects to allow more precise control of relative satellite positions in orbit.

Improved Confinement and Collective Behavior in Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Devices Detail Poster

Conceptual Design Phase Trade Model for the Mars Sample Return mission Detail Poster

Lightweight, Low Power Inexpensive Star Tracker Detail

Real-Time Wide Field of View Stereographic Image Capture, Storage, Broadcast and Playback Detail

Modular Optical Space Telescope (MOST) Poster

Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Detail

Space Logistics Project: Interplanetary Supply Chain Management and Logistics Architecture Website