How to dock your satellites in 3 easy steps

Mission overview of the Apollo 11 mission. Steps 3 and 7 involved docking between the two vehicles. Source.
“Columbia in Lunar Orbit, photographed by Eagle” — Wikipedia. Source.
An example of two nearby but different orbits. The satellites (red dots) have slightly different altitudes, phase angles, LTANs and inclinations. Made using
During close range rendezvous, vehicles often perform a series of “hops” to get closer to their target. Source.
Progress Spacecraft (cargo version of Soyuz) uses a probe to dock with the ISS. Source.
SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft uses an androgynous docking port when docking with the ISS. Source.

References worth checking out if you want more technical details:

  • Automated Rendezvous and Docking by W. Fehse. I consider this the bible of RPOD, as it starts from basic principles/concepts and explains the whole procedure very well. It’s a bit out-dated and focuses on ISS docking missions in LEO, but the fundamentals haven’t changed.
  • I’m reiterating the games I mentioned above: Spaceflight Simulator, Kerbal Space Program, and Simple Rockets 2 are all fantastic as they let you build an intuition for orbital mechanics and manoeurvres. Another fun browser game is on SpaceX’s own website: ISS Docking Simulator.
  • In terms of papers, the best ones I’ve seen are ones which go through entire mission concepts. Camille Pirat’s EPFL PhD thesis is great (along with many of his papers).
  • The papers about the CPOD mission and AAReST mission are great starting points too.



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