## Documentation Center |

On this page… |
---|

Fundamental Coordinate System Concepts Coordinate Systems for Modeling Coordinate Systems for Navigation |

Coordinate systems allow you to keep track of an aircraft or spacecraft's position and orientation in space. The Aerospace Blockset™ coordinate systems are based on these underlying concepts from geodesy, astronomy, and physics.

The blockset uses *right-handed* (RH) *Cartesian* coordinate
systems. The *right-hand rule* establishes the *x-y-z* sequence
of coordinate axes.

An *inertial frame* is a nonaccelerating
motion reference frame. In an inertial frame, Newton's second law
holds: force = mass × acceleration. Loosely speaking, acceleration
is defined with respect to the distant cosmos, and an inertial frame
is often said to be nonaccelerated with respect to the "fixed
stars." Because the Earth and stars move so slowly with respect
to one another, this assumption is a very accurate approximation.

Strictly defined, an inertial frame is a member of the set of
all frames not accelerating relative to one another. A *noninertial
frame* is any frame accelerating relative to an inertial
frame. Its acceleration, in general, includes both translational and
rotational components, resulting in *pseudoforces* (*pseudogravity,* as
well as *Coriolis* and *centrifugal forces*).

The blockset models the Earth's shape (the *geoid*)
as an oblate spheroid, a special type of ellipsoid with two longer
axes equal (defining the *equatorial plane*) and
a third, slightly shorter (*geopolar*) axis of
symmetry. The equator is the intersection of the equatorial plane
and the Earth's surface. The geographic poles are the intersection
of the Earth's surface and the geopolar axis. In general, the Earth's
geopolar and rotation axes are not identical.

Latitudes parallel the equator. Longitudes parallel the geopolar
axis. The *zero longitude* or *prime meridian* passes
through Greenwich, England.

The blockset makes three standard approximations in defining coordinate systems relative to the Earth.

The Earth's surface or geoid is an oblate spheroid, defined by its longer equatorial and shorter geopolar axes. In reality, the Earth is slightly deformed with respect to the standard geoid.

The Earth's rotation axis and equatorial plane are perpendicular, so that the rotation and geopolar axes are identical. In reality, these axes are slightly misaligned, and the equatorial plane wobbles as the Earth rotates. This effect is negligible in most applications.

The only noninertial effect in Earth-fixed coordinates is due to the Earth's rotation about its axis. This is a

*rotating, geocentric*system. The blockset ignores the Earth's acceleration around the Sun, the Sun's acceleration in the Galaxy, and the Galaxy's acceleration through the cosmos. In most applications, only the Earth's rotation matters.This approximation must be changed for spacecraft sent into deep space, i.e., outside the Earth-Moon system, and a heliocentric system is preferred.

The blockset uses the standard WGS-84 geoid to model the Earth. You can change the equatorial axis length, the flattening, and the rotation rate.

You can represent the motion of spacecraft with respect to any celestial body that is well approximated by an oblate spheroid by changing the spheroid size, flattening, and rotation rate. If the celestial body is rotating westward (retrogradely), make the rotation rate negative.

Modeling aircraft and spacecraft is simplest if you use a coordinate system fixed in the body itself. In the case of aircraft, the forward direction is modified by the presence of wind, and the craft's motion through the air is not the same as its motion relative to the ground.

See Equations of Motion for further details on how the Aerospace Blockset product implements body and wind coordinates.

The noninertial body coordinate system is fixed in both origin and orientation to the moving craft. The craft is assumed to be rigid.

The orientation of the body coordinate axes is fixed in the shape of body.

The

*x*-axis points through the nose of the craft.The

*y*-axis points to the right of the*x*-axis (facing in the pilot's direction of view), perpendicular to the*x*-axis.The

*z*-axis points down through the bottom the craft, perpendicular to the*xy*plane and satisfying the RH rule.

**Translational Degrees of Freedom. **Translations are defined by moving along these axes by distances *x*, *y*,
and *z* from the origin.

**Rotational Degrees of Freedom. **Rotations are defined by the Euler angles *P*, *Q*, *R* or
Φ, Θ, Ψ. They are:

P or Φ | Roll about the x-axis |

Q or Θ | Pitch about the y-axis |

R or Ψ | Yaw about the z-axis |

The noninertial wind coordinate system has its origin fixed
in the rigid aircraft. The coordinate system orientation is defined
relative to the craft's velocity ** V**.

The orientation of the wind coordinate axes is fixed by the
velocity ** V**.

The

*x*-axis points in the direction of.*V*The

*y*-axis points to the right of the*x*-axis (facing in the direction of), perpendicular to the*V**x*-axis.The

*z*-axis points perpendicular to the*xy*plane in whatever way needed to satisfy the RH rule with respect to the*x*- and*y*axes.

**Translational Degrees of Freedom. **Translations are defined by moving along these axes by distances *x*, *y*,
and *z* from the origin.

**Rotational Degrees of Freedom. **Rotations are defined by the Euler angles Φ, γ,
χ. They are:

Φ | Bank angle about the x-axis |

γ | Flight path about the y-axis |

χ | Heading angle about the z-axis |

Modeling aerospace trajectories requires positioning and orienting the aircraft or spacecraft with respect to the rotating Earth. Navigation coordinates are defined with respect to the center and surface of the Earth.

The *geocentric latitude* λ on the
Earth's surface is defined by the angle subtended by the radius vector
from the Earth's center to the surface point with the equatorial plane.

The *geodetic latitude* µ on the Earth's
surface is defined by the angle subtended by the surface normal vector
n and the equatorial plane.

The north-east-down (NED) system is a noninertial system with its origin fixed at the aircraft or spacecraft's center of gravity. Its axes are oriented along the geodetic directions defined by the Earth's surface.

The

*x*-axis points north parallel to the geoid surface, in the polar direction.The

*y*-axis points east parallel to the geoid surface, along a latitude curve.The

*z*-axis points downward, toward the Earth's surface, antiparallel to the surface's outward normal.*n*Flying at a constant altitude means flying at a constant

*z*above the Earth's surface.

The Earth-centered inertial (ECI) system is a mixed inertial system. It is oriented with respect to the Sun. Its origin is fixed at the center of the Earth. (See figure following.)

The

*z*-axis points northward along the Earth's rotation axis.The

*x*-axis points outward in the Earth's equatorial plane exactly at the Sun. (This rule ignores the Sun's oblique angle to the equator, which varies with season. The actual Sun always remains in the*xz*plane.)The

*y*-axis points into the eastward quadrant, perpendicular to the*xz*plane so as to satisfy the RH rule.**Earth-Centered Coordinates**

The Earth-center, Earth-fixed (ECEF) system is a noninertial system that rotates with the Earth. Its origin is fixed at the center of the Earth. (See figure preceding.)

The

*z*′-axis points northward along the Earth's rotation axis.The

*x*′-axis points outward along the intersection of the Earth's equatorial plane and prime meridian.The

*y*′-axis points into the eastward quadrant, perpendicular to the*x-z*plane so as to satisfy the RH rule.

Several display tools are available for use with the Aerospace Blockset product. Each has a specific coordinate system for rendering motion.

See the Coordinate System for more information about the MATLAB^{®} Graphics
coordinate axes.

MATLAB Graphics uses this default coordinate axis orientation:

The

*x*-axis points out of the screen.The

*y*-axis points to the right.The

*z*-axis points up.

FlightGear is an open-source, third-party flight simulator with an interface supported by the blockset.

Work with the Flight Simulator Interface discusses the blockset interface to FlightGear.

See the FlightGear documentation at

`www.flightgear.org`for complete information about this flight simulator.

The FlightGear coordinates form a special body-fixed system,
rotated from the standard body coordinate system about the *y*-axis
by -180 degrees:

The

*x*-axis is positive toward the back of the vehicle.The

*y*-axis is positive toward the right of the vehicle.The

*z*-axis is positive upward, e.g., wheels typically have the lowest*z*values.

AC3D is a low-cost, widely used, geometry editor available from `www.ac3d.org`. Its body-fixed
coordinates are formed by inverting the three standard body coordinate
axes:

The

*x*-axis is positive toward the back of the vehicle.The

*y*-axis is positive upward, e.g., wheels typically have the lowest*y*values.The

*z*-axis is positive to the left of the vehicle.

*Recommended Practice for Atmospheric and Space Flight
Vehicle Coordinate Systems,* R-004-1992, ANSI/AIAA, February
1992.

Mapping Toolbox documentation, The MathWorks, Inc., Natick, Massachusetts. Mapping Toolbox.

Rogers, R. M., *Applied Mathematics in Integrated Navigation
Systems,* AIAA, Reston, Virginia, 2000.

Sobel, D., *Longitude*, Walker & Company,
New York, 1995.

Stevens, B. L., and F. L. Lewis, *Aircraft Control
and Simulation,* 2nd ed., *Aircraft Control and
Simulation,* Wiley-Interscience, New York, 2003.

Thomson, W. T., *Introduction to Space Dynamics,* John
Wiley & Sons, New York, 1961/Dover Publications, Mineola, New
York, 1986.

World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS 84), `http://earth-info.nga.mil/GandG/wgs84/`.

Was this topic helpful?