Experimental Lab for Proximity Operations and Space Situational Awareness (ELISSA)

ELISSA Objectives & Scope

Achieving high technology readiness levels (TRL) is correlated to achieving high fidelity test environments, which replicate real world behavior and high fidelity models which replicate real spacecraft subsystems. The ELISSA laboratory at the Institute of Space Systems is motivated by this philosophy and allows:


  • The emulation of weightlessness and contact dynamics in orbit by floating satellite mockups on air cushions
  • Precise position and attitude determination by using an advanced motion capture system
  • The emulation of satellite subsystems by using 3D printed, single board computer controlled mockups


The ELISSA laboratory is composed of several segments which are distributed in 3 rooms (Figure 2).  The Air Table Room contains the aeromechanical platform composed of 15 modules. The modularity enables the independent operation of both halves of the table, while the embedded SmartNozzle™ technology allows for simultaneous floating of different shapes and weights. Moreover, six cameras constitute, together with a network switch, a low latency, high precision 6DoF motion capture system. Two side channel blowers equipped with frequency converters generate a range of flowrates which can be adapted to the user’s applications. The blowers are equipped with filters and isolated from the rest of the lab to reduce noise levels. Unlike conventional air tables, where mockups require tanks of compressed gas to form the air cushions for themselves, ELISSA generates air cushions continuously and thus enables long-term simulations. The Control Room segment is separated from the air table room via a noise insulated glass plate and contains all the necessary equipment to operate the whole simulation environment, and monitor and control experiments conducted on ELISSA. The mockups can be operated in autonomous mode or through ground control from the control room.


Overall architecture of ELISSA composed of air table room (ATR), air supply room (ASR), and control room (CR)



Possible Applications that can be investigated are

  • Solar panel deployment tests
  • Formation flight tests
  • Rendezvous and robotic assembly tests such as active debris removal
  • Contact dynamics tests such as docking mechanisms
  • Verification of guidance, navigation and control algorithms
  • On-orbit servicing and telepresence tests




Size (Length x Width):

7 m x 4 m

Nominal Air Gap:

Active by Table

min. 60 µm

Max. experiment duration:

No limitation

Max. mockup weight:

30 kg per 0.05 m²

position determination knowledge:

< 1 mm

Figure 2: Docking mechanism based on bio inspired adhesives (gecko materials) being tested on ELISSA

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[C80]  C. Trentlage, J. Yang, M. K. Ben Larbi, C. A. de Alba Padilla, and E. Stoll, “The ELISSA Laboratory: Free-Floating Satellites for Space-Related Research,” in Deutscher Luft- und Raumfahrtkongress, Friedrichshafen, Germany, Sep. 2018.



Contact Person:

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Dipl.-Ing. Mohamed Khalil Ben Larbi

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+49 (0) 531 391 9973