A paradigm shift is emerging in spacecraft engineering from single, large, and multifunctional satellites towards cooperating groups of small satellites, forming a sensor network in orbit. This will enable innovative approaches in areas like Earth observation, science exploration or telecommunication. Crucial interdisciplinary key challenges in formation control and in networked satellites are topic of this research proposal. Modern miniaturization techniques allow realization of satellites with continuously smaller masses, thus enabling cost-efficient implementation of distributed multi-satellite systems. Currently, state-of-the-art research in the field of small satellites involves formations of only two satellites.
All seven RLS regions conduct relevant research in the field of small satellites, and have scientific and technological expertise to share. Distributed small satellite systems offers interesting application potential, topics for research and education, as well as for international cooperation.
Networked satellite systems offer efficient approaches for
- high spatial and temporal resolution of observation data
- for cooperatively solving complex tasks
- for higher fault tolerance and robustness of the overall system
Miniaturization techniques enable
- realization of satellites at continuously smaller masses,
- decreased costs for launch
Further challenges for small satellites relate to
- relative navigation (position and attitude),
- inter-satellite communication in dynamic environment
Leading edge research on formations of small satellites is currently supported by ERC Advanced Grant (the
highest valued European Research prize). There are excellent opportunities for international partners to contribute
specific components or instruments for integration into the satellites, but also to contribute a dedicated satellite to the network. Partnerships in the ground station infrastructure offer participation of a broad audience.