PhD Defense by John Matthew Brewer

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John Matthew Brewer
(Advisor: Prof. Panagiotis Tsiotras]

will defend a doctoral thesis entitled,

Planning for Satellite Actuator Failure: A Falsification Approach Towards Certification of Contingency Controllers


Friday, February 25 at 2:00 p.m. EST

Today, more satellites are being launched at a rate never seen before. This is due, in part, to the miniaturization of technology and the increasing reliance on smaller satellites which are cheaper to build, launch, and replace compared to the large monolithic satellites of the past. However, these small satellites still possess strikingly high failure rates that are often the result of design issues, the lack of testing, and uncertainties in hardware components. As satellites grow in complexity, incorporate more features, and are built at a faster rate, the ability to design and test successful systems becomes ever more difficult.

This thesis aims to present a falsification approach to the automated verification and validation approach to satellite systems. Specifically, we seek to address how a technique like this can be used to test and validate contingency plan controllers designed to rescue a satellite in the event an actuator failure occurs. These contingency control schemes are complicated implementations which not only require unique controllers capable of stabilizing a satellite who has lost controllability, but they must also perform identification of the failure that has occurred and invoke the switching needed from the primary control approach to one appropriate in handling the failure experienced by the satellite. Verifying these types of complex control structures by hand is difficult to say the least, so the development and demonstration of automated frameworks capable of doing this would not only be a valuable contribution as a tool, but may also lead to a significant reduction in the seemingly normal high failure rate of satellites seen in the space community over the past 20 years.


  • Prof. Panagiotis Tsiotras – School of Aerospace Engineering (advisor)
  • Prof. Georgios Fainekos – School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, Arizona State University
  • Prof. Brian Gunter – School of Aerospace Engineering
  • Prof. Glenn Lightsey – School of Aerospace Engineering
  • Dr. Sean Phillips – Space Vehicles Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory



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