Over the last several years, the satellite landscape has seen the vast immergence of smaller and smaller satellites. These new satellite designs offer many benefits not only for science but also for reduced mission costs and increased mission robustness for exploration of our planet and beyond. Further, the notion of a ‘swarm’ of smallsats is being considered as a novel and useful way to do science and/or support the attendant communications. Swarm concepts—multiple satellites flying in formation near one another in similar orbits—are of growing interest, as a solution to the challenge of simultaneous measurement. However, communications for smallsats, and even more significantly swarms of smallsats, are challenged as a result of both the size limitations restricting available power for communications links, and the complexities of coordinating and collecting data from multiple spacecraft. JPL has explored the concept of an Earth receiver coherently combining the received deep space smallsat signals which each individually are too small to process. For the concept to succeed, each member of the swarm must phase its signal very accurately relative to all other swarm signals. This proposal not only seeks to address the deep space application but also expands to include swarm scenarios with higher dynamics – thereby involving signals that are much harder to coherently combine. Our Swarm Array Coherent Combining (SACC) scenarios span the complete space of possible orbiting swarms and their links to include lunar and other planetary orbiting swarm. Anticipated results of the effort include a recommended SACC architecture, modeling and simulation of the architecture that demonstrates viability of the concept, and prototype design for Phase II demonstration.
Within the scientific community, there is growing interest in smallsat swarm operations for simultaneous measurement and observation, and NASA efforts are being applied to enabling swarm operations concepts as demonstrated by the NASA Ames support tool being developed to address control of satellite swarm. The swarm array coherent combining concept proposed here, will address not only deep space, but higher dynamic LEO swarms, as well as lunar missions which are anticipated to increase dramatically in this decade under the Artemis Program.
The commercial space sector has grown rapidly, with a majority of spacecraft launched being commercial, and many new businesses being developed around data and applications that rely on space-based observations. Commercial companies in the remote sensing sector for example, often fly constellations of small satellites to meet data collection and could benefit directly from this capability.