Pathfinder for Autonomous Navigation (PAN)

PAN selected for NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative

NASA has announced the ninth round of candidates for CubeSat space missions, currently scheduled to fly starting in 2019. PAN has been selected as a candidate, as well as fellow SSDS flight experiment, Alpha. Read more here.

The Pathfinder for Autonomous Navigation (PAN) project aims to launch two 3U+ CubeSats which will autonomously rendezvous and dock in Low Earth Orbit. This is the first CubeSat mission to ever attempt docking and will represent one of the most advanced autonomous CubeSat systems that has flown to date. Demonstrating autonomous rendezvous and docking capabilities on the CubeSat scale opens the door to new spaceflight capabilities such as the on-orbit assembly of advanced structures like space stations.

The project will demonstrate autonomous control algorithms for rendezvous and docking maneuvers; low-power reconfigurable magnetic docking technology; and compact, lightweight and inexpensive precision relative navigation using carrier-phase differential (CD) GPS. If successful, the technology demonstrated by PAN will reduce the mass and complexity associated with traditional rendezvous and docking systems.

PAN started as a collaboration between NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Cornell University. The team delivered two satellite prototypes to Langley in October 2016 for a ground demonstration to complete this phase of the project, and now the team plans to deliver two flight-ready satellites in early 2019 for launch shortly after.

We are currently looking for new team members to work on the following subsystems/projects:

Attitude Determination & Control

  • Implementing control laws and flight software
  • Characterizing sun-sensor performance


  • Characterizing propulsion system performance using force measurements and a thermal vacuum chamber


  • Assembling and testing spacecraft avionics

Telemetry & Command

  • Writing software to send, receive and parse spacecraft telemetry
  • Establishing antenna gain patterns
  • Designing and implementing tests to characterize the performance of the telemetry and command system, including the GPS receivers, short-range radios and long-range radios

Command & Data Handling

  • Programming microcontrollers to carry out various tasks during the mission
  • Implementing communication protocols between subsystems
  • Hardware-in-the-loop testing and simulation

Team Lead: Stewart Aslan (saa243)