Orion Research Lab

Orion Research Lab

The Orbital Robotic Interaction, On-orbit servicing, and Navigation laboratory provides unique simulation capabilities for maneuver kinematics and dynamics of air and space vehicles.

Maneuver Kinematics Simulator and Integrated Flat Floor

The ORION Maneuver Kinematics Simulator is a gantry type, Cartesian robot with a horizontal motion table and two pan-tilt mechanisms. The positioning envelope for the motion table is 5.94 m x 3.60 m. The pan-tilt mechanisms each can rotate by 180 degrees in elevation and are not limited in azimuth.

The Integrated Flat Floor is a 5.94 m x 3.60 m acrylic surface within the base frame of the Maneuver Kinematics Simulator. 

The combination of maneuver kinematics and dynamics simulation capability enables testing of sensor systems, robotic manipulators, path planning algorithms, teleoperation methods, etc.


High Precision Air Bearing Table

The High Precision Air Bearing Table consists of a 3.6 m x 1.8 m tempered glass plate on a 4.5 m x 1.8 m optical bench. The optical bench is supported on pneumatic mounts, which allows the air-bearing table to be precisely leveled and vibration insulated.

The High Precision Air Bearing Table enables tests and experiments in dynamics and control of propulsion systems for small spacecraft, formation flight, contact dynamics, and capture dynamics. If needed, a hemispherical air-bearing can be mounted on an air bearing vehicle to add three rotational degrees of freedom and to enable experimentation and test in spacecraft attitude controls.

Air-Bearing Vehicles

Experiments are conducted with a set of air bearing vehicles (ABVs). Each ABV is a self-contained vehicle with on-board computer, relative navigation sensors, a set of eight control thrusters, a reaction wheel, capture devices, batteries, and wireless communication system. As such, the ABVs have capabilities and limitations similar to actual small spacecraft.


Object Tracking System

ORION uses a twelve camera OptiTrack system to track the position and attitude of every test vehicle within the 9 m x 9m x 2.5 m testbed volume. The OptiTrack system provides position data with sub-millimeter accuracy and attitude data with sub-degree accuracy. The tracking data is derived and filtered in real time to generate velocity data. The test vehicles receive their state vector through the lab's WiFi network. Therefore, the closing of control loops and relative navigation between vehicles is possible without sophisticated on-board sensors. The limitations of on-board sensors can be replicated by intriducing artificial noise and bias into the OptiTrack data.


UAV Controls Testbed

To recreate three-dimensional motion of spacecraft and also to research guidance and control systems for unmanned aerial vehicles in challenging environments, the ORION Lab is equipped with a DJI Matrice 100 quadcopter. The quadcopter features a custom on-board computer, fully integrated into the wireless network and optical tracking system of the lab. This setup enables rapid prototyping and testing of advanced guidance and control laws, both for autonomous and human-in-the-loop operations.



To recreate the challenging lighting conditions in space, such as oversaturation of sensors, harsh contrasts, and the loss of color information, the ORION Lab uses a Hilio Lightpanels LED panel. The LED panel can be freely positioned around both the Maneuver Kinematics Simulator and the High Precision Air Bearing Table.