Available Technology

Method of enhancing on-board state estimation using communication signals

A method of enhancing on-board state estimation for a spacecraft utilizes a network of assets to include planetary-based assets and space-based assets. Communication signals transmitted from each of the assets into space are defined by a common protocol. Data is embedded in each communication signal transmitted by the assets. The data includes a time-of-transmission for a corresponding one of the communication signals and a position of a corresponding one of the assets at the time-of-transmission. A spacecraft is equipped to receive the communication signals, has a clock synchronized to the space-wide time reference frame, and has a processor programmed to generate state estimates of the spacecraft. Using its processor, the spacecraft determines a one-dimensional range from itself to at least one of the assets and then updates its state estimates using each one-dimensional range.
Patent Abstract: 
Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center have developed a machine-to-machine (M2M) network navigation protocol to enable spacecraft to perform autonomous navigation and positioning even in the most challenging of environments. Designed to facilitate deep space communication between spacecraft without the need for ground system support, this enhancement of on-board navigation capabilities allows assets to operate accurately in GPS-denied areas, determine position fixes relative to other assets, and minimize reliance on operator intervention. Additionally, implementation of the network architecture may be as simple as a software update, with no requirement of extensive designated hardware. Through providing these benefits, the NASA technology could improve the operational capabilities of aircraft navigation systems; advance autonomy, coordination, and safety features in unmanned aerial vehicles; and serve as a substitute or supplement for GPS positioning.

Versatile: Provides navigation and positioning guidance without needing GPS or external infrastructure


Robotics: Autonomy, swarm coordination, local/relative positioning precision

Aerospace: Autopilots, navigation systems, UAV flight controllers

Wearables: Positioning capabilities, embedded systems networks


Evan John Anzalone, Jason H. Chuang

Patent Number: 
Internal Laboratory Ref #: 
Patent Status: 
Patent Issue Date: 
March 10, 2015
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