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PROJECT TITLE: INCAS Guidance, Navigation and CONtrol TECHnologies for SATellite Systems (INCAS CONTECHSAT)

Coordinator: INCAS - National Institute for Aerospace Research “Elie Carafoli” (

Financed by: The Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) through the STAR Programme

Period: 14.11.2016 - 13.11.2019

Project director: Dr. Ing. Ec. Achim IONIȚĂ (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

Project Team:

  • Human resources involved: Achim IONIŢĂ , Dragoş-Daniel ION-GUȚĂ , Marina ANDREI , Nicolae APOSTOLESCU, Mihai TUDOSE, Alina-Ioana CHIRA , Andreea-Irina AFLOARE , Minodor ARGHIR, Mihai IONUȚ.
  • Additional young researchers: Andrei LUNGOCI, Ștefan STOIAN, Sandra NICHIFOR, Alexandru BURCĂ, Nguyen Van THIEN, Emanuel TRANDAFIR.


INCAS CONTECHSAT (Guidance, Navigation and CONtrolTECHnologies for SATellite Systems Center of Competence) is defined as an organizational environment with the ability to absorb and generate new knowledge and competencies in a highly competitive area of technologies for launchers and space vehicles:

  • design and implementation of hardware equipment (coupling mechanisms, navigation sensors, actuators, communication lines),
  • development of software for directing, navigation and control of spacecraft,
  • establishment of protocols for human-machine interface.

CONTECHSAT is organized at INCAS – National Institute for Aerospace Research “Elie Carafoli”, using state-of-the-art infrastructure for R&D for hardware equipment and GNC software of spacecraft (robotic experimental platform and virtual platform for space dynamics simulations, mecano-climatic testing, structural testing and HPC capabilities) and highly experienced staff with key competencies in aerospace sciences. Cooperation with industry is based on strategic partnerships with high-tech industry, from major manufacturing companies and innovative SMEs with space related activities.

The project supports the development of I.N.C.A.S. as an Aerospace Research and Development Institute, in its mission to mature technological capabilities for aerospace science research by implementing the most advanced space robotic technologies in a new generation of research based on the concept of "Hardware - In - the - Loop "(HIL) and the Human - Machine - Interface (HMI) concept for the multidisciplinary conception of rendezvous and docking (R & D). A robotic and virtual reality-based system is the integrating environment for the most advanced existing test capabilities (Flight Dynamics Simulators, Mechatronic Flight Command Systems, and High Performance Computing) that will provide the level of competitiveness for research of 2020.


HMI + HIL Simulation and Testing Methodology

The HIL (Hardware-in-the-loop) simulation is a real time simulation, being the most appropriate method for verifying, testing and validating complex and encapsulated „real-time” systems as identified in the system proposed. HIL involves real components in the simulation process ("plant simulation"). Through HIL it is possible to test a hardware before it is implemented in a real process. The HIL architectures allow partial or complete simulations in virtual environments, prior to real environments simulations. The Human - Machine - Interface (HMI) concept is based on a method in which closed - loop handling qualities (stability, controllability, maneuverability, manageability) are tested on the Cooper - Harper scale of the spacecraft. The proposed project is "smart specialization" and "plant simulation", based on the research capabilities offered by a HMI + HIL simulation / testing laboratory.

CONTECHSAT will distribute and utilize this knowledge in the form of new capacity in space technologies, be it research results, innovations or expertise, aiming for enhanced collaborative R&D environment with industry and ESA.

Project objectives:

CONTECHSAT Vision is to become a model scientific and Competence Centre aiming to enhance scientific and applied research capacities for hardware equipment and GNC software of spacecraft through the use of the most advanced space technologies and breakthrough ideas for enhanced ESA competitivity of the industrial partners.

There are three basic strategic goals for INCAS CONTECHSAT:

  • To support strategic and application-oriented research and expertise with potential industrial applications for hardware equipment and GNC software of spacecraft. This means supporting strategic partnerships for ESA programs and internationally competitive research and development in “niche” areas of competence for hardware equipment and GNC software of spacecraft, with the aim of generating innovation in this key technological area for ESA.
  • To coagulate synergies and complementary resources from a broad research and industrial community needed for technical development and industrial application in space vehicle area. This includes concentrating multidisciplinary competence in particular areas of applied research in order to further the development of hardware equipment and GNC software of spacecraft, processes and services, typically by focusing on ESA priorities.

To bridge the gap between researchers, industry and service providers, stimulating and strengthening triple-helix relationships between research, academia and industry. This will increase the likelihood of scientific research being used by emerging national industry for space and will make R&D more responsive to space industry needs and IPR are exploited for the benefit of the stakeholders. 



The main expectations from CONTECHSAT are:

  • Mechanical Spaceflight applied to different models of spacecraft (launchers, bearing bodies - lifting bodies, capsules), optimizing configurations (for stability and maneuverability), re-entry trajectories, specifications FCS (Flight Control System), performance estimation for actuators (thrusts)
  • Analysis of space missions aimed at defining preliminary mission, optimal profiling based on objectives and the development of specific algorithms and software products: orbital missions around Earth (GEO - Geostationary Orbit and LEO-Low Earth Orbit); interplanetary space mission; design and optimization of reentry paths or on other planets (Mars) or natural satellites (Moon, Titan)
  • Simulations on different mission scenarios validated by different codes implemented for: GNC/AOCS – Guidance, Navigation, Control/Attitude and Orbit Control System
  • The design and technological manufacture of hardware equipment (coupling mechanisms, navigation sensors, communication lines) , implemented software functions
  • The implementation of navigation filters capable of transmitting information from multiple sensors simultaneously in redundant configurations. The system allows other applications such as sensor test coupling mechanisms and other instruments.


The integration of the project into the HIL Experimental Platform involves the realization of the elements related to the structure of the air-cushion vehicle, generically named „Chaser” and „Target”, as well as the verification of their functionality in the complex project.


Interface coupling assembly „Chaser”

The coupling assembly „ Chaser” is made up of a linear actuator that transforms the rotation movement of the engine, in translation movement on the X-direction, through a ball screw and the linear bearing. The second actuator is mounted on the linear bearing support, which provides a translational movement in the same way, on the Y-direction, of a rotary device consisting of a stepper motor and a touch probe.


Interface coupling assembly „Target”

The coupling assembly „Target” is a cone interface for the target vehicle, mounted on the shock absorber support. The shock absorbers allow an elastic movement of the cone when the coupling interface of the «Chaser» vehicle comes in contact with it. The springs bring the system back to its original position. A system of 3 electromagnets, mounted through the springs makes the final structural connection, in a firm position.


                          a)                                                       b)

Air-cushion robots: a) Target, b) Chaser

The robots will be manually or autonomously controlled having a translational and/or rotaional movement on the trajectories imposed in the fixed or relative reference systems.


Docking and structural connection

After docking the mechanisms, when the «Chaser» vehicle coupling interface reaches the profiled section of the cone, once they are properly aligned, the structural blocking elements (electromagnets) may be acted upon. The docking system of the target vehicle is structured to be as elastically as possible according to the required requirements.


Software architecture for simulation of mission and docking

The software architecture for mission simulation for RV&D includes: modeling methods, instruments, environments and simulation techniques, requirements and software support.


Interface for simulating orbits

The interface for simulating orbits – component of Virtual Platform – allows the user to run a demo which shows the movement of an object around another object under the influence of gravity. The motion on elliptical orbits has been simulated. Not all real conditions have been taken into account.


Interface for simulation of RV&D missions (INCAS- CONTECHSAT)

The software interface for simulation of RV&D missions is a components of the Virtual Platform (VP). It serves the docking operation by simulating different scenarios which will contribute to the developments of the experimental Platform. The simulation software communicates with the user through this interface to define scenario entry data:

  • The position and orientation of the target and chaser vehicles are initially random;
  • The target vehicle is fix. The mounting bracket orientation has three degrees of freedom (physically limited);
  • The chaser vehicle moves maintain the initial orientation until the proximity of the target, then “it informes itself” about the target orientation and it changes its orientation, then it moves towards the target;
  • The chaser’s travel speeds are a function of time.

New Results:

Execution and testing of air-cushion robots;

fig11 fig12

fig13 fig14

Matlab/Simulink Simulation of R&D process

  • Computational algorithms for air-cushion and ABB robots;
  • Development and implementation of GNC algorithms for the docking phases using MATLAB / Simulink environment for implementation on ABB robots;
  • Design, manufacture and testing of thrusters for air-cushion robots;
  • Modeling, analysis, implementation and testing of coupling equipment for air cushion robots;
  • PhD thesis: “Contribution to Kinematic and Dynamic Study of Rigid Bodies”, Ing. NGUYEN THIEN VAN.

fig15 fig16

Robot chasseur                                               Robot target


Experimental setup for thruster static force measurement

fig18 fig19

Air floating test bench at INCAS „SpaceSysLab” laboratory

Contributions to the objectives of the STAR programme: