Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Electrical Engineering (MEE)

Document Type

Master's Thesis




Electrical Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. James E. Lumpp


This thesis presents the design of an attitude determination system for small satellites that automatically corrects for attitude drift. Existing attitude determination systems suffer from attitude drift due to the integration of noisy rate gyro sensors used to measure the change in attitude. This attitude drift leads to a gradual loss in attitude knowledge, as error between the estimated attitude and the actual attitude increases.

In this thesis a Kalman filter is used to complete sensor fusion which combines sensor observations with a projected attitude based on the dynamics of the satellite. The system proposed in this thesis also utilizes a novel sensor called the stellar gyro to correct for the drift. The stellar gyro compares star field images taken at different times to determine orientation, and works in the presence of the sun and during eclipse. This device provides a relative attitude fix that can be used to update the attitude estimate provided by the Kalman filter, effectively compensating for drift. Simulink models are developed of the hardware and algorithms to model the effectiveness of the system. The Simulink models show that the attitude determination system is highly accurate, with steady state errors of less than 1 degree.