State of the Art

The exploration of minor bodies can contribute substantially to our knowledge of the solar system and to plan for the exploitation and manipulation of comets and asteroids. A potential low-cost exploration and prospection technology is offered by CubeSats. A variety of CubeSat platforms are available for applications around the Earth. Proposals exist to extend these capabilities to interplanetary space including asteroids. This extension requires the development of guidance, navigation and control (GNC), power and propulsion systems for deep space missions that account for the limited resources on board small spacecraft. A further key exploration technology is offered by landers. Landing on a rotating object in microgravity is a challenging task because of the lack of a priori precise information. The recent example of the ESAs cornerstone mission Rosetta deploying the lander Philae on a comet in 2014 demonstrates that key developments are required in GNC and system design in combination with prior prospection of the landing site to guarantee a successful landing. Once new information from prospection is available, the challenge is to use this information to improve our ability to manipulate the rotational and orbital dynamics of minor bodies.


WP7 covers all activities related to exploration, and exploitation of asteroids and comets. It investigates the use of small platforms to characterise asteroids, binary systems, and develop technologies for close proximity navigation and landing on minor bodies.

Research Output

Pugliatti,M., Topputo, F., (2020), Small-Body shape recognition with convolutional neural network and comparison with explicit features based methods. 1-20. Paper presented at the AAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Specialist, Lake Tahoe, California, 9-12 August 2020.

Pugliatti, M., Maestrini, M., Di Lizi, P., Topputo, F., (2021), On-board small-body semantic segmentation based on morphological features with U-net. 31stAAS/AIAA Space Flight Mechanics Meeting, Charlotte, North Carolina, January 31-Febraury 4 2021.

Pugliatti, M., Topputo, F., (2021), Navigation about irregular bodies through segmentation maps. 31stAAS/AIAA Space Flight Mechanics Meeting, Charlotte, North Carolina, January 31-Febraury 4 2021.

Ferrari, F., Franzese, V., Pugliatti, M., Giordano, C., Topputo, F., (2021), Preliminary missionprofile of Hera’s Milani CubeSat. Advances in Space Research.

Peñarroya, S. Vyas, R. Paoli, and K. M. Kajak, “Survey of Landing Methods on Small Bodies : Benefits of Robotics Manipulators to the Field,” presented at the International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Automation in Space, 2020. (

Peñarroya P, Pugliatti M, Centuori S, Topputo F, “Assessment of the use of safe zones as attitude guidance logic for a cubesat landing within impact crater on Dimorphos.” (abstract submitted to Planetary Defence Conference 2021, waiting for acceptance).

Peñarroya P, Paoli R, “Orbit propagation around small bodies using spherical harmonic coefficients obtained from polyhedron shape models.” (abstract submitted to Planetary Defence Conference 2021, waiting for acceptance).

Casini, S., Fodde, I., Engelen, S., Monna, B., Cervone, A., & Gill, E. (2020). Towards the Use of Commercial-off-the-Shelf Small-Satellite Components for Deep-Space CubeSats: a Feasibility and Performance Analysis. Paper presented at Small Satellite Conference, Logan (UT), United States, 1-6 August 2020.

Casini, S., Fodde, I., Monna, B., Cervone, A., & Gill, E. (2020). Novel 3U Stand-Alone CubeSat Architecture for Autonomous Near Earth Asteroid Fly-By, MDPI Aerospace (peer-review finalization).

Casini, S., Misquero, M., Legnaro, E., & Pugliatti, M. (2020).PWG MASSE (MAssive Solar System Exploration), Stardust-R LTW I, Madrid, Spain, 18-21 May 2020.

Casini, S. (2020). Autonomous deep-space CubeSat: where we are and where we are going, Stardust-R GVW I, Pisa, Italy, 7-10 September 2020.