Design and testing of star tracker algorithms for autonomous optical line-of-sight deep-space navigation

Stefano Casini*, Angelo Cervone, Bert Monna, Pieter Visser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


This paper aims to investigate the capabilities of exploiting optical line-of-sight navigation using star trackers. First, a synthetic image simulator is developed to generate realistic images, which is later exploited to test the star tracker's performance. Then, generic considerations regarding attitude estimation are drawn, highlighting how the camera's characteristics influence the accuracy of the estimation. The full attitude estimation chain is designed and analyzed in order to maximize the performance in a deep-space cruising scenario. After that, the focus is shifted to the actual planet-centroiding algorithm, with particular emphasis on the illumination compensation routine, which is shown to be fundamental to achieving the required navigation accuracy. The influence of the center of the planet within the singular pixel is investigated, showing howthis uncontrollable parameter can lower performance. Finally, the complete algorithm chain is tested with the synthetic image simulator in a wide range of scenarios. The final promising results show that with the selected hardware, even in the higher noise condition, it is possible to achieve a direction's azimuth and elevation angle error in the order of 1-2 arc sec for Venus, and below 1 arc sec for Jupiter, for a spacecraft placed at 1 AU from the Sun. These values finally allow for a positioning error below 1000 km, which is in line with the current non-autonomous navigation state-of-the-art.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5896-5909
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Optics
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


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