Nicolò Bernardini

Postgraduate Research Student

Academic and research departments

Astrodynamics, Surrey Space Centre.


My research project


Nicola Baresi, Harry James Holt, Nicolò Bernardini, Xiaoyu Fu, Mansur Tisaev, Yang Gao, Chris Bridges, Andrea Lucca Fabris, Roberto Armellin, Piotr Murzionak, Roman Kruzelecky (2021)Mission Analysis and Design of VMMO: The Volatile Mineralogy Mapping Orbiter

Water ice and other volatile compounds found in permanently shadowed regions near the lunar poles have attracted the interests of space agencies and private companies due to their great potential for in-situ resource utilization and scientific breakthroughs. This paper presents the mission design and trade-off analyses of the Volatile Mineralogy Mapping Orbiter, a 12U CubeSat to be launched in 2023 with the goal of understanding the composition and distribution of water ice near the lunar South pole. Spacecraft configurations based on chemical and electric propulsion systems are investigated and compared for different candidate science orbits and rideshare opportunities.


Guidance and navigation algorithms play a crucial role in ensuring a successful spacecraft mission. This work proposes a full guidance and navigation algorithm based on differential algebra successive convex programming technique (SCVX). By leveraging the high-order expansions around the reference trajectory it is possible to enhance the computational efficiency of convex-based guidance and navigation algorithms. The high-order expansion enables to capture of the non-linearities in the estimation and guidance problems without sacrificing the robustness of the algorithms. Monte Carlo analyses are carried out to assess the benefits of recom-puting the guidance from the estimated state with this new high-order approach while being robust to uncertainties and errors.

Nicolò Bernardini, Nicola Baresi, Roberto Armellin (2023)Fuel-Efficient Stationkeeping of Quasi-Satellite Orbits via Convex Optimization, In: Journal of guidance, control, and dynamics [electronic resource] American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Despite several missions, the origin of the two Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, remains an open question. The goal of the next JAXA’s flagship mission Martian Moons eXploration will be to explore the two Martian moons. The satellite will be injected into a quasi-satellite orbit and it will require some station-keeping maneuvers to maintain the satellite on these orbits. Traditional methods for station-keeping around libration points are not applicable for these orbits due to their rapid evolution. In this paper we propose a new approach to perform station-keeping on periodic and quasi-periodic orbits based on convex optimization. Successive convex optimization is used to solve the time free fuel optimal problem to drive the satellite back to a reference trajectory. The latter is updated every GNC (Guidance Navigation and Control) loop by means of an innovative Discrete Fourier Transform approach that exploits the periodicity and quasi-periodicity of quasi-satellite orbits. To assess the robustness of the methodology the control and the references are computed in the autonomous dynamical model while the propagation is performed in the non-autonomous model while adding injection, orbit determination and executions errors. Monte Carlo analysis demonstrate that quasi-satellite orbits can be maintained using less than 6 m/s per month.

N. Bernardini, M. C. Wijayatunga, N. Baresi, R. Armellin (2023)State-dependent trust region for successive convex optimization of spacecraft trajectories

Successive convex programming is a promising technique for onboard applications thanks to its speed and guaranteed convergence. Hence it can be an enabler for future missions where spacecraft autonomy plays a key role. The definition of a good value of the trust region plays a vital role in the successful convergence of SCVX algorithms. This work presents an improved trust region algorithm based on a differential algebra technique that relies on the information given by the nonlinearities of the constraints and does not depend on the user for the initialization of the trust region.

NICOLÒ BERNARDINI, NICOLA BARESI, Roberto Armellin, Steve Eckersley, Sarah A Matthews (2022)Trajectory design of Earth-enabled Sun occultation missions, In: Acta Astronautica195pp. 251-264

Understanding the solar corona and its structure, evolution and composition can provide new insights regarding the processes that control the transport of energy throughout the solar atmosphere and out into the heliosphere. However, the visible emission coming from the corona is more than a million times weaker than the emission from the photosphere, implying that direct corona observations are only possible when the disk of the Sun is fully obscured. In this paper we perform a feasibility study of a Sun occultation mission using the Earth as a natural occulter. The challenge is that the occultation zone created by the Earth does not follow a Keplerian trajectory, causing satellites placed in this region to quickly drift away from eclipse conditions. To increase the number of revisits while optimizing the propellant budget, we propose optimal trajectories in the Sun–Earth-Spacecraft circular restricted three body problem that account for scientific and engineering constraints such as limited power budget and mission duration. Chemical propulsion, electric propulsion and solar sailing configurations are compared in terms of performance and mission feasibility, revealing how 24 h of corona observations would be possible every 39 days with as little as 199 m/s of í µí»¥í µí±‰. The feasibility of the solar sail approach is hereby demonstrated, making it a challenging engineering alternative to currently available technologies.

NICOLÒ BERNARDINI, Gianmario Merisio, Matteo Losacco, Sebastiano Raffa, Roberto Armellin, Nicola Baresi, Stephanie Lizy-Destrez, Francesco Topputo, Elisabet Canalias (2022)Exploiting coherent patterns for the analysis of qualitative motion and the design of bounded orbits around small bodies

Missions around small bodies present many challenges from their design to the operations, due to the highly non-linear and uncertain dynamics, the limited ∆v budget and constraints coming from orbit determination and mission design. Within this context, mathematical tools to enhance the understanding of the dynamics behavior can be proven useful to support the mission design process. Chaos indicators are adopted to reveal patterns of time-dependent dynamical systems and to enable the identification of practical stability regions, which are then exploited to design bounded orbits in the proximity of small bodies. The methodology is applied to study the MMX and Hera missions. In the MMX context, the final goal is to obtain bounded orbits useful for the global surface mapping and gravity potential determination of Phobos. On the other hand, concerning the Hera mission, a qualitative analysis of the natural motion about the Didymos binary asteroid system is carried out to compute bounded orbits convenient for the global characterization of the two asteroids and to investigate potential landing trajectories. Sensitivity analyses via Monte Carlo simulations are performed to prove the robustness of the different bounded orbits.

NICOLA BARESI, NICOLÒ BERNARDINI, EDOARDO CICCARELLI, Xiaoyu Fu, Harry J. Holt, Roberto Armellin (2022)Guidance, Navigation and Control of Retrograde Relative Orbits around Phobos

Despite the advantages of very-low altitude retrograde orbits around Phobos, questions remain about the efficacy of conventional station-keeping strategies in preventing spacecraft such as the Martian Moons eXploration from escaping or impacting against the surface of the small irregular moon. This paper introduces new high-fidelity simulations in which the output of a sequential Square-Root Information Filter is combined with recently developed orbit maintenance strategies based on differential algebra and convex optimization methods. The position and velocity vector of the spacecraft are first estimated using range, range-rate, and additional onboard data types such as LIDAR and camera images. This information is later processed to assess the necessity of an orbit maintenance maneuver based on the estimated relative altitude of MMX about Phobos. If a maneuver is deemed necessary, the state of the spacecraft is fed to either a successive convex optimization procedure or a high-order target phase approach capable of providing sub-optimal station-keeping maneuvers. The performance of the two orbit maintenance approaches is assessed via Monte Carlo simulations and compared against work in the literature so as to identify points of strength and weaknesses.

NICOLÒ BERNARDINI, NICOLA BARESI, Roberto Armellin, Steve Eckersley (2020)Feasibility Study of Sun Occultation Missions Using Natural Bodies

Understanding the solar corona and its composition can provide new insights regarding the temperature and the magnetic field of the Sun. The light coming from the corona is more than a million of times weaker than the direct light from the Sun; consequently observing the corona is only possible when the Sun is obscured. From ground, total solar eclipses offer a good opportunity to observe the corona; however, these events only occur every 18 months on average, lasting typically only for a few minutes. The goal of this paper is to perform a feasibility analysis of a Sun occultation mission using Earth as an occulter. However, the occultation zone created by the Earth does not follow a Keplerian trajectory, causing satellites placed in this region to quickly drift apart from the target area. To increase the number of revisits while optimizing the propellant budget, we propose optimal trajectories in the Sun-Earth-Spacecraft circular restricted three body problem that account for scientific and engineering constraints such as limited power budget and mission duration. Chemical Propulsion, Electric Propulsion and Solar Sailing configurations are compared in terms of performance and mission feasibility, revealing how 20 hours of corona observations per cycle would be possible with 0.25 km/s with a revisit of the occultation zone every 35 days. In addition to that the solar sail was proven to be an interesting alternative to chemical and low-thrust propulsion systems.