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Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119
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Aerospace Science and Technology
Optimal uses of reaction wheels in the pyramid configuration using a
new minimum infinity-norm solution
Hyungjoo Yoon , Hyun Ho Seo, Hong-Taek Choi
Satellite Control System Department, Korea Aerospace Research Institute, Daejeon 305-806, Republic of Korea
a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t
Article history:
Received 2 May 2014
Received in revise d form 30 July 2014
Accepted 6 September 2014
Avail abl e online 16 September 2014
Minimum infinity-norm solution
Time optimal maneuver
Reaction wheel array
Momentum envelope
In this study, simple methods are presented to improve the agility performance of a spacecraft with
four reaction wheels in the pyramid configuration. A new and simple method is proposed to determine
the momentum and the torque envelopes, which are defined as the maximum momentum and torque
capacities of the wheel array, respectively. Then, based on the geometry of the envelopes, the best
shape of the pyramid configuration needed to deliver optimal agility performance is discussed. In this
paper, new methods are also proposed to optimally distribute three-dimensional torque and momentum
commands, to the individual reaction wheels. The developed methods are based on the use of novel
algorithms to solve minimum infinity-norm, or L-norm, problems. These algorithms can easily be
implemented with minimal modification of conventional ones, but yield considerable improvement of
agility performance in numerical examples.
©2014 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Agility performance has become one of the key factors in de-
veloping/operating modern satellite systems, especially for Earth-
imaging satellites, because it determines the number of available
imaging targets within the duration of a given pass. Agility per-
formance can be improved in various ways, but it is mainly deter-
mined by the maximum torque and momentum capacities of the
actuators. A modern satellite is generally equipped with an array
of at least three, possibly more, reaction wheels for redundancy.
Hence, the total combined capacity of the array, which is referred
to as an ‘envelope’, should be considered. This envelope is deter-
mined not only by the capacity of individual wheels, but also by
the configuration of the wheel array. In this paper, we discuss how
to determine the wheel configuration needed for optimal agility
Another closely related problem that should be considered, is
the efficient distribution of three-dimensional torque and momen-
tum commands to individual reaction wheels. Because there are
generally more than three reaction wheels, it becomes necessary to
solve an under-determined linear-equations system, which in gen-
eral has an infinite number of solutions.
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +82 10 3324 3660.
E-mail addresses: (H. Yoon), (H.H. Seo), (H.-T. Choi).
In fact, this problem can be considered a special case of the
control allocation problem. There have been a lot of investigations
of control allocation problems for aircraft (see Ref. [7] and the ref-
erences therein) and a few on spacecraft attitude control (e.g., see
Ref. [3]). However, the focus of these studies was not the best use
of wheel array capacity to achieve optimal agility, which is the
main topic of this paper.
Conventionally, the minimum L2-norm solution, which mini-
mizes the square sum of the individual torque/momentum, is used
because it minimizes the total power/energy of the wheel array.
However, as will be shown later, this method does not fully utilize
the envelopes of the wheel array. On the other hand, the minimum
L-norm (or ‘infinity-norm’) solution, which minimizes the maxi-
mum absolute value of the individual torque/momentum, may be a
better choice for higher agility performance. While the minimum
L2-norm solution can easily be obtained using a pseudo-inverse
matrix, it is well known that the minimum L-norm solution can-
not be expressed in a simple closed form, and thus needs more
sophisticated algorithms to ‘search’ for it.
Cadzow proposed just such an algorithm [1,2]. His algorithm
is efficient and is applicable to under-determined problems in any
number of dimensions, but it is subject to the Haar condition [5].
Moreover, the algorithm does not solve the problem itself but, in
fact, solves its ‘dual optimization problem’. For this reason, it does
not help much to understand the nature of the problem. Grav-
agne and Walker [4] proposed an algorithm also based on the dual
problem, and showed how the solution could be applied to multi-
link robot controls. Markley et al. [8] first related the minimum
1270-9638/©2014 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.
110 H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119
Fig. 1. Reaction wheel array in the pyramid configuration.
infinity-norm problem to spacecraft attitude control with reaction
wheels, and provided the motivation for the present paper. They
presented the results from a study of the nature of the torque
and momentum envelopes, and provided a scheme to define them.
They also proposed an attitude control loop based on their min-
imum infinity-norm solution algorithm. Their paper clearly re-
vealed the geometric aspects of the envelopes, and their results are
widely applicable to general configuration (e.g., in terms of num-
ber of wheels, sizes, and axis directions) of a reaction wheel array.
Their method, however, is based upon a purely geometric approach
without considering coding efficiency, meaning that there is room
for improvement in terms of coding and computational efficiency.
Verbin and Ben-Asher [9] also proposed an algorithm for a case
with four reaction wheels.
In this paper, simpler and computationally more efficient meth-
ods are proposed than those presented in the earlier works [8,
9]. Our works is focused on the pyramid configuration with four
identical reaction wheels, which is in fact the industry standard
owing to its minimum number of redundancies and its symmet-
ric capacities. We propose a simple new method which defines the
momentum/torque envelopes. Then we provide a scheme to opti-
mize the pyramid configuration for the inertia properties of a given
spacecraft, using the relationship between its moment of inertia,
and the envelope under consideration. For the distribution of the
torque/momentum, we herein propose a new algorithm to obtain
the minimum infinity-norm solution, that also runs much faster
than that of Ref. [8].
Another distinct feature of the present work is that it provides
another new algorithm which calculates an optimal momentum
distribution with the wheel speeds minimally diverging from a
nominal set value, in the sense of the L-norm distance. This al-
gorithm can be used to make the wheel speeds stay as close to
the (non-zero) nominal speeds as possible, even when the total
angular momentum of the array is zero. This feature is useful in
practice to keep the wheels from operating at, or crossing zero rpm
(at which wheel characteristics become nonlinear due to static and
Coulomb friction). This nonlinear behavior near zero rpm may in-
stantaneously increase the attitude control error and degrade the
mechanical and electrical reliability of the wheel. So, in some space
programs, it is preferable to avoid the zero rpm operation com-
pletely, if possible.
Finally, comparative numerical simulations are provided to
show the effectiveness of the proposed methods. It will be shown
that a control loop using the proposed methods, yields superior
agility performance over the conventional L2-norm method, and
also successfully leads the wheels to a given non-zero nominal
speed after completing the maneuver.
2. Momentum and torque envelope
2.1. The pyramid configuration
In this section, we propose a new means of composing the mo-
mentum and the torque envelopes of a reaction wheel array. This
paper mainly deals with a four-wheel array in a pyramid configu-
ration of the type shown in Fig. 1, which is the most common in
practice. (The direction of each spin axis can be flipped, but it is
defined intentionally, as shown in Fig. 1, to make the null space
vector according to Eq. (4). The reason will be explained in Sec-
tion 4.3.)
Let us denote the wheel spin direction vectors by W=
w1, ···, ˆ
w4]3×4; the total angular momentum HtR3and the
angular momenta vector of the array Hw=[H1, ···, H4]TR4are
then related according to
H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119 111
Fig. 2. Momentum envelope of a reaction wheel array in the pyramid configuration with Hi∈[Hmax, Hmax ]. (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure
legend, the reade r is referred to the web versio n of this article.)
and the torque relationship can be written as
where TtR3is the total torque and Tw=[T1, ···, T4]TR4is
the torque vector of the wheel array. With the specific configura-
tion shown in Fig. 1, the matrix Wcan be expressed as
W=cos β1cos β2cos β1cos β2cos β1cos β2cos β1cos β2
sin β1cos β2sin β1cos β2sin β1cos β2sin β1cos β2
sin β2sin β2sin β2sin β2
The momentum of each wheel Hi, where i =1, ···, 4, is assumed
to be limited as Hi∈[Hmax, Hmax], and the wheel torque Ti
(i =1, ···, 4)as Ti∈[Tmax , Tmax ]. It should be noted that in the
pyramid configuration, the total momentum and the total torque
become zero when the four individual wheels have the same
wheel momentum or torque, respectively. In other words, Whas a
null vector
which yields Ht=WHw,n=0.
2.2. Momentum and torque envelopes
The momentum envelope is defined as the maximum momen-
tum capacity of Htin three-dimensional space, which can be pro-
duced by the array of reaction wheels, each with momentum con-
straints. (The torque envelope can be similarly defined.) Markley
et al. [8] presented a detailed study of the envelope and pro-
posed a method to visualize it, but their method is based on a
geometric approach and thus may not intended to be computa-
tionally efficient. Here, a new and simpler method is presented to
obtain the envelopes of the four-wheel pyramid configuration. Ac-
cording to earlier studies [5] and [8], the total angular momentum
reaches the envelope only if at least two out of four wheels have
the min/max angular momentum (i.e., ±Hmax). In other words, the
surface of the envelope consists of the locus facets of the total an-
gular momentum with two wheel speeds saturated and the other
wheel speeds set free, within their speed limits. (See also Neces-
sary Condition 1, presented later.) This is, however, a necessary but
not a sufficient condition; hence, some of the locus facets are not
on the envelope surfaces, but lie inside them.
For example, let us assume that the No. 1 and 2 wheels are
saturated, and that the No. 3 and 4 wheels are free. We can then
obtain four locus facets,
(H1,H2)=(Hmax,Hmax ), (H1,H2)=(Hmax ,Hmax)(5a)
(H1,H2)=(Hmax,Hmax ), (H1,H2)=(Hmax ,Hmax)(5b)
with H3and H4being free within their limits. Among these com-
binations, the first two facets (with Eq. (5a)) contain the null
angular momentum cases Hw=[Hmax, Hmax , Hmax , Hmax ]T
and Hw=[Hmax , Hmax , Hmax , Hmax]T. This implies that these two
facets are obviously not on the envelope surface. The other facets
with Eq. (5b) may still be parts of the envelope surface. Therefore,
we can select 12 facets (=C(4, 2) ×2) in this way, which can be
obtained via
(Hi,Hj)=(Hmax,Hmax )and Hk∈[Hmax,Hmax ]∀k= i,j
(Hi,Hj)=(Hmax,Hmax )and Hk∈[Hmax,Hmax ]∀k= i,j
where i, j =1, ···, 4and i = j. These facets actually complete the
momentum envelope, as shown in Fig. 2 (red lines are spacecraft
body axes, green lines are spin axes of the reaction wheels). This
derivation may not seem very rigorous, but it certainly yields a
correct result and is suitable for practical purposes.
3. Wheel configuration for optimal agility performance
The envelope is not a sphere but a polyhedron which can be
skewed depending on the configuration of the wheel array, as
shown in Fig. 2. This fact indicates that the magnitudes of the
available torque/momentum may also var y in different directions.
112 H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119
Fig. 3. Momentum envelope (blue-lined, semi-transparent) and momentum ellipsoid (gray, gridded) with the spacecraft moment of inertia Ixx :Iyy :Izz =2 :3 :1. (For
interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
In addition, spacecraft are not inertially symmetric in general, im-
plying that the magnitudes of the available body rate and ac-
celeration also vary along the rotational direction. Thus, in the
present paper, we define the optimality of agility performance in
the sense that the available body rate and the acceleration vectors
along the ‘worst’ direction (along which the vectors have minimum
magnitude) have the largest magnitude (i.e., we define a maximin
problem). It is also assumed that the maneuver is executed as an
eigenaxis rotation in which the body rate and the acceleration vec-
tors have a common, body-fixed direction during the maneuver.
This rotation can be achieved with control logic available in the
literature [10,11].
In most cases, the configuration angle β1is set to β1=45for
symmetry between the xand yaxes. Another configuration angle
β2, which is referred to as a skew (or cant) angle, is commonly
set to β2=35.26(tan β2=1/2) [8]. These values give the to-
tal torque/momentum along the spacecraft body axes the same
magnitude, while also maximizing the minimum distance from the
origin to the envelope surface [6,8]. This choice is made, however,
without consideration of the inertia property of the spacecraft.
Another choice of configuration angles can be made with con-
sideration of the spacecraft inertia. For simplicity, let us consider
a spacecraft whose body axes are the principal axes, that is, the
products of inertia are negligible and the spacecraft’s matrix of in-
ertia is I=diag([Ixx, Iyy, Izz]). This set of optimal β1and β2values
can be calculated easily by equating a body rate or an acceleration,
along each of the spacecraft body axes, to each other. From the
following relationships
ωx,max =Hx,max
Ixx =4
Hmax cos β1cos β2(7a)
ωy,max =Hy,max
Iyy =4
Hmax sin β1cos β2(7b)
ωz,max =Hz,max
Izz =4
Hmax sin β2(7c)
ωx,max =ωy,max =ωz,max,(8)
where H,max, ( =x, y, z) is the maximum total momentum along
the spacecraft body axes, the optimal configuration angles β1and
β2can be obtained as
tan β1=Iyy
tan β2=Izz
xx +I2
and the maximum momentum along each body axis is
ωx,max =ωy,max =ωz,max =4Hmax
xx +I2
yy +I2
Here, it should be noted that the maximum slew rates in Eq. (10)
cannot be obtained simultaneously; instead, each of them is ob-
tained when the total momentum is aligned along the correspond-
ing body axis.
The above-mentioned method is very convenient; however, as
far as the authors are aware, it has yet to be proved that Eq. (9)
is actually the optimal solution which yields the maximum worst
body rate. Here, we present a discussion of the optimality by intro-
ducing a momentum ellipsoid and its relationship with the momen-
tum envelope. The momentum ellipsoid is defined as the locus of
the angular momentum vector required for the spacecraft to have
an angular rate with a given magnitude ω. The ellipsoid has
a shape which is obviously determined by the spacecraft inertial
property, and is scaled by the given value of ω. The ellipsoid has
three semi-axes along the spacecraft body axes, and each length
is proportional to the principal moment of inertia (Iii) about each
body axis, and the corresponding slew rate ω, as shown in Fig. 3.
In rectangular coordinates, the equation of the ellipsoid is:
xx +y2
yy +z2
zz =ω2.(11)
To maximize the available slew rate ωalong the worst rota-
tional direction, we need to find the optimal configuration of the
wheel array such that the momentum ellipsoid inscribed in the
momentum envelope, has a maximum value of ω. Due to sym-
metry, only the three facets of the envelope which make tangential
contact with the ellipsoid should be considered. From some ge-
ometric relationships and calculations, it can be shown that the
magnitude of the spacecraft slew rates, which put the ellipsoid
tangentially into contact with Planes I, II, and III (see Fig. 3) are:
I=16 sin2β1cos2β1cos2β2
xx sin2β1+I2
yy cos2β1
H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119 113
Fig. 4. Square of the slew rates ωI(red), ωII (blue), and ωIII (green) and the optimal
configuration. (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the
reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
II =16 cos2β1sin2β2cos2β2
xx sin2β2+I2
zz cos2β1cos2β2
III =16 sin2β1sin2β2cos2β2
yy sin2β2+I2
zz sin2β1cos2β2
respectively. Next, we can obtain the optimal configuration angles
which maximize the minimum among ωI, ωII, and ωIII . Fig. 4 shows
the square of the slew rates versus the configuration angles us-
ing Eq. (12). It can be shown that the optimal configuration angles
can be obtained when ω2
II =ω2
III. In other words, the opti-
mal configuration can be obtained when the momentum ellipsoid
simultaneously comes into contact with all the facets of the enve-
lope. From Eqs. (12) and this condition, one can obtain Eq. (9).
There are twelve worst directions in total, along which the
maximum available body rate is minimized. They are parallel with
the following vectors:
Ixx ,±Iyy,0]T,(13a)
Ixx ,0,±Izz]T,(13b)
The maximum worst body rate with the optimal configuration can
also be expressed as
ωI=ωII =ωIII =22Hmax
xx +I2
yy +I2
which is only 1/2(70 %) of the maximum body rate along the
body axes in Eq. (10).
Note that the conventional choice of configuration angles (i.e.,
β1=45and tan β2=1/2) is optimal only when the spacecraft
is inertially symmetric (i.e., when Ixx =Iyy =Izz).
4. Optimal torque/momentum distribution
The aforementioned optimal configuration would not be of
much use, unless the attitude control law fully utilizes its opti-
mized capacities. Therefore, such an attitude control law should be
employed to achieve optimal agility performance.
An attitude control law calculates the attitude error and then
calculates the required torque and/or the momentum command in
the three-dimensional body frame. A command distribution logic
is then used to calculate the distribution of the three-dimensional
commands to the individual reaction wheels. In this section, we
present new algorithms for the optimal torque/momentum distri-
4.1. The minimum L2-norm (or conventional) method
The most commonly used solution in practice is the minimum
L2-norm solution, which is given by
where W+is the pseudo-inverse matrix. The L2-norm is defined
as the sum of the squares of the individual elements, i.e., x2=
N=xTx, for a vector x =[x1, ···, xN]T. Be-
cause the L2-norm can be interpreted as the total energy or power
of the vector signal, this method yields optimal power-efficiency.
However, for the power efficiency, this method allocates as large
a command as possible to a wheel whose spin axis is closest to
the total commanded torque/momentum. This leads the wheel to
be easily saturated even when the total torque/momentum does
not reach the envelopes yet. Therefore, it can be concluded that
this method does not fully utilize the capacities of the wheel ar-
ray, and is thus not optimal in terms of agility performance.
4.2. The minimum L-norm method
Because each wheel has limited torque/momentum capacities,
the total angular momentum and the torque are also constrained
within the envelopes. Therefore, optimal maneuvering perfor-
mance can be accomplished by delaying wheel speed saturation
as much as possible. This can be achieved by minimizing the max-
imum value, or L-norm, of the set of individual wheel momen-
tum/torque values [8]. The L-norm of a vector x =[x1, ···, xN]T
is defined as
The minimum L-norm method enables the wheel array to
fully utilize its torque/momentum capacities. Unlike the minimum
L2-norm solution, the minimum L-norm solution cannot be ex-
pressed in a simple closed-form. Therefore, a sophisticated algo-
rithm which searches for the solution is necessary. Markley et
al. [8] presented such an algorithm based on the geometric prop-
erties of the solution.
4.3. New algorithm for the minimum L-norm solution
In this section, a new, computationally efficient algorithm is
proposed to find the minimum L-norm solution. For a given
under-determined linear equation (2), all of the solutions can be
written in a general form as
Tw=Tw,2+Tnull (17)
where Tw,2=W+Ttis the minimum L2-norm solution and Tnull is
the null vector of the matrix W, which satisfies WTnull =0.
At this point, a case is considered in which there are four
wheels and the nullity of Wis 1. (The wheel sizes and the spin
directions may not be symmetric at this point.) The null vector
Tnull can be expressed as
Tnull =α[Tn,1,Tn,2,Tn,3,Tn,4]T(18)
where αis any real scalar number and where the vector
[Tn,1, Tn,2, Tn,3, Tn,4]Tis the basis of the null space of W. Note
that Tn,i= 0(i =1, ···, 4)when any combination of three col-
umn vectors (or the spin axes) of Wspans a three-dimensional
114 H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119
space, which is true for the pyramid configuration. This can eas-
ily be proved by showing that the assumption of Tn,j=0for any
jyields Tn,i=0, i. The general form of the solution, Eq. (17), can
then be written as
At this point, we will use some necessary conditions for the min-
imum L-norm solution to derive the problem solving algorithm.
The first is well known and is given as follows.
Necessary Condition 1. At least two elements of the minimum
L-norm solution have the same absolute value as the L-norm of the
solution itself. (Of course, the absolute value of these elements is greater
than, or equal to, the others.)
Proof. The proof is omitted (see Refs. [5,8]). 2
Necessary Condition 1is closely related to the fact that at least
two wheels are saturated at the momentum envelope, as shown in
the previous section. Before introducing the second condition, we
make an assumption to simplify the derivation process.
Assumption 1. All of the elements of the null space basis, Tn,i, (i =
1, ···, 4)have the same sign (e.g., positive), such that Tn,i>0.
This assumption does not lose any generality; one can flip the
sign of any Tn,iby flipping the direction of ˆ
wi. Note that the spin
directions defined in Fig. 1 satisfy this assumption. The second nec-
essary condition is presented below.
Necessary Condition 2. All of the elements in Necessary Condition 1
(whose absolute values are identical to the L-norm), do not have the
same sign.
Proof. Let Tbe the minimum L-norm solution and assume that
its elements, of which the absolute values are identical to the min-
imum L-norm, have a same sign. Then, because the elements of
the null basis vector, Tn,i, also have a same sign (from Assump-
tion 1), there always exists a null vector Tnull which gives the
solution T +Tnull, a smaller L-norm. This violates the assump-
tion that Tis the minimum L-norm solution. 2
From these necessary conditions, an algorithm can be derived
to calculate the solution. There are six (=C(4, 2)) possible candi-
dates of αwhich may make Twthe solution, as follows:
In these equations, p, qindicates that the corresponding value of
αis derived from the condition that the p-th and the q-th ele-
ments have the same absolute value but have different signs. For
example, the first condition comes from T2,1+αTn,1=−(T2,2+
αTn,2). Then, the minimum L-norm solution can be obtained
Fig. 5. Minimum L2-norm (top) and minimum L-norm (bottom) solutions in the
pyramid configuration.
by comparing the maximum absolute values of the elements of
the general solution in Eq. (19) with the six candidates of α, as
given in Eq. (20), and then selecting the one with the lowest
value. The newly developed algorithm can be implemented with
far fewer code lines and can run much faster (typically more than
five times faster with MATLAB) than the previous method pro-
posed by Markley et al. [8].
4.4. A special case: the symmetric pyramid configuration
For the symmetric pyramid configuration, described in Sec-
tion 2.1, for which the wheels are identical and spin axes are
symmetric (as shown in Fig. 1), the null basis vector can be written
as [1, 1, 1, 1]T. From the symmetry of this configuration, an even
simpler algorithm can be derived.
Let us assume that the minimum L2-norm solution, Tw,2, is
calculated as shown at the top of Fig. 5. Because the null vector
can be written as Tnull =α[1, 1, 1, 1]T, the addition of this null
vector Tnull to Tw,2can be geometrically interpreted as a shift of
the solution with α, or an equivalent shift of the ‘zero’-line with
α. Therefore, it can be intuitively concluded that the minimum
L-norm solution, Tw,, can be obtained as
where αis the average of the min/max values of Tw,2; that is,
where min(·)and max(·)are the minimum and the maximum
values of the elements, respectively. Owing to the symmetry of
the pyramid configuration, the solution can be obtained without
comparing the norms of the multiple candidates (as in the previ-
ous section). This algorithm can easily be implemented by adding
only few code lines to the conventional L2-norm method. For the
symmetric pyramid configuration, the minimum L-norm solution
probably cannot be simpler than the newly proposed one.
4.5. Minimum L-distance solution from nominal values
The wheel momentum distribution using the minimum L-
norm solution can be successfully used for slew maneuver con-
trol. However, this method will make the speed of each individual
wheel zero when the total angular momentum command is zero,
because this state obviously has the minimum L-norm value.
H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119 115
Fig. 6. Combined torque and modified momentum control loops.
Thus, if a spacecraft has zero-bias momentum, the wheel speeds
become zero when the spacecraft completes a maneuver and is at
rest. As noted in the introduction, it is not preferable for a reac-
tion wheel to operate near zero rpm due to its nonlinear behavior.
This behavior can cause considerable attitude errors, and thus may
hinder performance of assigned tasks. Moreover, if the wheels are
kept in low rpm range for long, there might be some impact on
wheel reliability. (For this reason, some wheel manufacturers set
limits on the allowable number of turns at low rpm.)
The present section proposes a new algorithm with which the
wheel speed vector has the minimum L-distance from a given
(non-zero) nominal speed. This algorithm can be derived in a man-
ner similar to that in Section 4.3. It can easily be shown that
the solution with minimum L-distance from a nominal vector,
Hnom =[¯
H1, ¯
H2, ¯
H3, ¯
H4]T, has at least two elements which have
the same absolute difference from the nominal momentum ele-
ments, and this absolute difference is greater than, or equal to,
those of the other elements. Hence, we can have six possible can-
didates of αas below.
where Hn,i(i =1, ···, 4)are the elements of the null vector of W.
Then we can choose αwhich makes the solution have the mini-
mum L-distance from Hnom.
If the null basis vector is [1, 1, 1, 1]T(as in the symmetric pyra-
mid configuration), and if the nominal wheel momentum of each
wheel also has the same value (for instance Hnom ), it becomes
possible to obtain the solution more easily. Because the nominal
wheel momentum vector Hnom =Hnom[1, 1, 1, 1]Tis itself a null
vector of W, the sum of this vector and the minimum L-norm
solution Hw,, that is,
also becomes a solution for Eq. (1). Moreover, because Hw,has
the minimum L-distance from the zero vector [0, 0, 0, 0], the
solution Hn
w,has the minimum L-distance from the nomi-
nal momentum vector Hnom[1, 1, 1, 1]T, and thus is the minimum
L-distance solution. It is noticeable that the solution Eq. (24) also
can be obtained from Eq. (23) with Hn,i=1 and ¯
Hi=Hnom for i
and a proper choice of α.
Fig. 6 shows the attitude control loop, which consists of the
minimum L-norm torque distribution and the modified min-
imum L-distance momentum distribution with respect to the
nominal speed. Its structure is nearly identical to that of Ref. [8]
except for the use of the modified minimum L-distance momen-
tum distribution. Using this control loop, it is now possible to lead
the wheel speeds to the (non-zero) nominal set value when the
spacecraft is at rest.
It should be noted that this method (especially with a large
nominal set value) may cause the wheels to become saturated
easily and thus may hinder optimal use of the full momentum ca-
pacity. Therefore, the nominal value should be selected with great
care: it should not be too large (reduction of the available momen-
tum capacity) or too small (attitude control performance at rest
and degraded reliability of the wheels). One may use a variable
nominal value, which is zero when the total momentum is large
(to fully utilize the momentum capacity) and is sufficiently large
when the total momentum is small (to keep the wheel speeds
away from zero rpm).
In some actual space programs, for instance, those involving
imaging satellites, interruption of an imaging mission due to wheel
speed zero-crossing should be avoided. In addition, it may be a
case that reliability of the wheels has higher priority than agility
performance. For such cases, one may force the wheels to oper-
ate only within the half of the speed range without a sign change,
that is, with Hi∈[0, Hmax]. This scheme can be implemented by
setting the nominal speed to half the maximum speed, and set-
ting saturation limits at zero and the maximum rpm. Of course, as
the momentum envelope is reduced to half the original one, some
agility performance should be sacrificed. However, the torque ca-
pacity remains the same, and it is also a dominant factor for agility
performance, especially in small angle slews, so the sacrifice of
agility performance may not be that great, and may be tolerable
depending on the mission requirements.
5. Numerical simulation
Comparative simulation examples are given in this section. The
spacecraft inertia property is I=diag[Ixx, Iyy, Izz] =
diag[1000, 1500, 500]kg m2, and for each reaction wheel, the iner-
tia is 0.4kgm
2. The maximum wheel torque is 2Nm, and the
maximum wheel speed is 600 rpm. (These values are roughly
based on actual satellites developed and operated by Korea
Aerospace Research Institute.) It is assumed that the spacecraft
is initially at rest and that the total angular momentum of the
wheel array is initially zero (i.e., zero-momentum bias). The space-
craft is assumed to be commanded to perform a slew maneuver of
60 deg. The rotational axis is set to I1ˆ
w2, where ˆ
w2is the spin
axis of Wheel #2, so that the required total angular momentum
vector is aligned with ˆ
w2. This choice will distinctly show the dif-
ference between the conventional L2-norm method and the newly
116 H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119
Fig. 7. Attitude error quaternions.
Fig. 8. Spacecraft body rate magnitude.
proposed L-norm method (will be shown later). For the given in-
ertial property, the optimal configuration angles are computed to
be β1=56.3and β2=15.5using Eq. (9). These values are used
during the comparison of the performance of the L2-norm and the
L-norm methods. For the attitude feedback loop, we developed
a PD-control algorithm which leads the spacecraft to rotate about
a fixed Euler rotational axis without excessive transient overshoot.
This is a modification of an earlier scheme proposed in Ref. [10].
When using the minimum L-distance control (from the nomi-
nal set value) presented in Section 4.5, the nominal speed is set
to 100 rpm when the total momentum magnitude is smaller than
half of the maximum momentum of one wheel; otherwise, it is set
to zero rpm. During the simulation, the individual wheel torque is
forced to be zero if the wheel speed is saturated (with a 30 rpm
margin for practical reasons) and the commanded torque is out-
ward the limit. This scheme keeps the wheel speeds within their
allowable speed range.
Figs. 7 and 8show the improved agility performance of the
newly developed L-norm method over the conventional L2-norm
method. The maneuver time (in which all of the attitude errors
in each body axis become less than 0.01) is shortened from
52 to 41 sec (reduction of about 21%) in this specific scenario,
by the proposed method. More specifically, the maximum body
rate was increased from 2.0 to 2.5 deg/sec, and the accelera-
tion from 0.14 and 0.4 (before and after the saturation of Wheel
#2 at 10 sec, respectively) to 0.19 deg/sec2. These results show
that the proposed method successfully improved agility perfor-
mance by more fully utilizing the momentum and torque capac-
The superiority of the proposed method is more clearly un-
derstood in Figs. 9 and 10. These display the different histo-
ries of reaction wheel speeds and the trajectory of the total
angular momentum in the three-dimensional space, respectively.
With both methods, the wheel speeds, which are initially at
the nominal speed of 100 rpm, are operated within the given
speed limits (600 ∼+600 rpm). However, with the conventional
L2-norm method, Wheel #2 becomes saturated early, while the
other wheels are still far from the speed limit. This occurs because
H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119 117
Fig. 9. Reaction wheel speeds.
Fig. 10. Angular momentum trajectories.
the required momentum is along the axis of Wheel #2 and thus
the minimum L2-norm method uses this wheel as much as possi-
ble. After Wheel #2 is saturated, angular acceleration is decreased
significantly, as shown in Fig. 8(a). On account of the reduced
acceleration, the total angular momentum could not reach the en-
velope and return to zero, as shown in Fig. 10, to complete the
60-degree maneuver. This implies that the control law did not fully
utilize the momentum capacity. Moreover, because a sort of ‘sym-
metry’ is broken when the Wheel #2 becomes saturated, the wheel
speeds do not return to nominal (100 rpm) after the maneuver
(see the wheel speeds after stabilization in Fig. 9(a)). The wheel
speeds may converge to an unpredictable value after each maneu-
ver, and thus may become too large or too small after a number of
maneuvers. Therefore, additional operations and/or control logics
may be needed to return the speeds to nominal value after ma-
On the other hand, the minimum L-norm method delays
wheel speed saturation until the total momentum reaches the en-
velope so that the spacecraft can maneuver with a larger body
rate. It is noteworthy that, because the required total momentum
118 H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119
Fig. 11. Total power of reaction wheel array.
is along ˆ
w2in this scenario, all of the wheels are used uniformly
to generate this momentum. (Note that all of the wheels should
be saturated at the vertex (the black dot in Fig. 2) which lies on
w2.) As shown in Fig. 10(b), the total momentum reached the en-
velope, which implies that the proposed method fully utilized the
momentum capacity of the array. It also can be observed that the
wheel speeds returned to nominal after the maneuver, owing to
the minimum L-distance momentum distribution scheme.
Fig. 11 shows the time histories of the total power of the wheel
array. As anticipated in the discussions in Introduction and Sec-
tion 4.1, the proposed L-norm method shows lower power ef-
ficiency than the conventional L2-norm method, as the cost for
its superior agility performance. However, energy consumption for
attitude maneuvers takes only a small portion of the total en-
ergy budget, because the time duration of maneuvers is very short
compared to the whole flight time. Therefore, the lower power ef-
ficiency is generally tolerable in practice.
Finally, we conducted another simulation in which the wheel
speed zero-crossing condition would be absolutely avoided. These
results are shown in Fig. 12. In Fig. 12(b), it can be seen that the
wheel speeds, which were initially set to a (fixed) nominal value
of 300 rpm (half the maximum rpm), did not cross the zero-rpm
point, and operated between 0 and +600 rpm, later returning to
the initial value. The momentum capacity, and thus the maximum
body rate (about 1.2 de g /sec), are each only half the original ones,
but the maneuver time was 59 sec, an increase of 41%. This in-
crease may be acceptable in some space programs, in return for
better attitude pointing stability and wheel reliability.
6. Conclusions
To make the best use of a reaction wheel array, we combined
geometric, mathematical, and algorithmic approaches. These meth-
ods were developed with an emphasis on computational efficiency
and ease of implementation, and are therefore preferable for prac-
tical applications. The newly developed methods yield results iden-
tical to those of Markley et al. but can be implemented much eas-
ier and run faster. In addition, we proposed a new method which
allows the wheels to operate as close to their nominal speed as
possible. We also successfully demonstrated the validity and ef-
fectiveness of all the methods introduced here using numerical
The developed methods are applicable to a case with four re-
action wheels, especially in the pyramid configuration. Therefore,
extending the proposed algorithms for use with more general con-
figurations would be worthy of further study. The authors also
hope that this work promotes studies and applications of the min-
imum infinity-norm methods in applications other than agile ma-
neuver. For instance, the developed methods could be applied to
determine the wheel specification requirements. It could also be
applied in design of the momentum management logic required Fig. 12. Maneuver without wheel speed zero-crossing.
H. Yoon et al. / Aerospace Science and Technology 39 (2014) 109–119 119
to compensate for external disturbances (e.g., solar pressure or air
drag) applied to spacecraft. Finally, it should be mentioned that
the agility performance also depends on the design of the atti-
tude feedback control. So optimal attitude feedback design should
be considered for even better agility performance, along with the
methods presented in this work.
Conflict of interest statement
None declared.
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... They developed a method to calculate the maximum torque and momentum envelopes with three or more wheels. Yoon et al. proposed a computationally efficient method using a null vector for a four-wheel RWA [10], and then extended their approach to more general RW configurations [11]. Karpenko and King presented an intuitive method to develop a polyhedron [4]. ...
... For the geometry of the torque envelope of a general RW configuration without colinear RWs, all discussions about the vertices and edges in Refs. [8][9][10][11] are valid, but those for the facets are not. The vertices are points where all wheels are saturated, and the edges have all but one wheel saturated (interested readers are directed to Ref. [9] for details). ...
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This paper presents a new algorithm for determining the minimum infinity-norm, or L∞-norm solution to a system of underdetermined consistent linear equations. This algorithm can be applied to enable rapid attitude maneuvering of spacecraft. Unlike previous algorithms that consider the dual optimization problem, the proposed algorithm solves the control problem directly using the inherent properties of the solution. Therefore, the algorithm is relatively straightforward, easy to understand and implement, and provides more insight into the nature of the problem. Using the proposed algorithm, the maximum torque of a reaction-wheel array along a given direction can be determined in real-time onboard, thus improving the spacecraft’s attitude agility compared with the widely used minimum L2-norm solutions.