Astronautics, Space Systems and Planetary Exploration

Guidance, Navigation and Control; Propulsion

This research area covers several topics concerning both the space and ground segments for satellite missions, such as navigation, attitude control, and mission control. The planetary exploration activities encompass mission analysis, radio tracking science experiments and deep space navigation, both based on traditional, large satellites and on CubeSat platforms.


The CIRI AERO space systems group was responsible for several space mission analysis and design activitiesIn particular, CIRI carried out the design, development, test, and operations of ALMASat-1, the first microsatellite of the University of Bologna successfully launched in 2012 by the small ESA launcher Vega. More recently, the group was responsible for the operations of the educational ESA microsatellite ESEO, successfully launched in December 2018. Moreover, several studies of preliminary mission analysis and design for large satellites, CubeSats were conducted, both in LEO orbit and in deep space.

During the last 20 years, our research groups have been involved in several space exploration mission, with a focus on radio science experiments. CIRI AERO participated (or is participating) in several NASA and ESA deep space missions, like Cassini, Juno, BepiColombo, JUICE, Europa Clipper and Hera. Hence, a strong expertise was accumulated in all the phases characterizing an experiment of a deep space mission, from the proposal, the preliminary and detailed design, the data analysis, to the archiving.

Our research in the attitude determination and control (ADCS) area encompass the modelling, design, prototyping, and testing of sensors, actuators, and algorithms for the estimation and control of spacecraft orientation in space.

Through the years, several miniaturized space systems were designed, manufactured and qualified, including, besides ADCS equipment, also structural, GNSS-based navigation, propulsion, and power subsystems for small satellite platforms.

Several types of space propulsion systems are being investigated, both from a theoretical/numerical and an experimental viewpoint, including solid propellant rockets, cold-gas and warm-gas monopropellant microthrusters, helicon plasma and magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters.

Research in the guidance, navigation, and control of deep space satellites comprises all the activities needed to ensure a safe and reliable navigation and to achieve the mission's objective. The activities are mainly focused on deep space CubeSats, and include: studies and simulations to support the mission preliminary design, the operational orbit determination and control of the satellite through the analysis of classical radiometric data (ranging, Doppler, VLBI) and optical navigation data.


  • Phase A studies (preliminary design) of space missions
  • Preliminary analysis of radio science experiments and radio tracking systems for interplanetary probes
  • Sizing and preliminary design of spacecraft attitude determination and control systems (ADCS)
  • Experimental tests and validation of nanosat attitude control systems (CubeSat < 6U)
  • Preliminary design and prototyping (up to TRL 5) of space microsystems and components
  • Numerical analysis and experimental validation of chemical and electrical space propulsion systems
  • Orbit determination and control of LEO and interplanetary probes


prof. Paolo Tortora

Scientific responsible of the Astronautics, Space Systems and Planetary Exploration operative unit

Write an e-mail

Go to the website

Info and Inquiry

To receive information about the services of this unit, inquiry at the following email

Write an e-mail

Related labs

Radio Science and Planetary Exploration Lab

Go to the website

Microsatellites and Space Microsystems Lab

Go to the website