News Space

Swarm spacecraft will be the new research tools for understanding the formation of Earth

Rockot launch vehicle was the first to deploy the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia over eighteen years ago. The Rockot space vehicle hosted eight small satellites to their orbits instead of one mega satellite marking the beginning of the small satellite missions. Although the deployment of the rocket took billions of dollars, it was the first mission to initiate the small satellites and their operations in space. These satellites are advantageous because they are easy to develop since their dimensions are small with a single CubeSat measuring 10cm height, 10cm width, and 10cm length. The researchers formulating these satellites were teaching students how to develop satellites. The initial thought was that the learners would apply the knowledge they acquired from these cubesats to develop new space vehicles for satellite development.

In the course of their study, the students discovered that they could use the small satellites for actual missions instead of educational tools, and that is how they transformed. Roger Walker of the European Space Agency (ESA) stated that the brilliant minds in the field of science are downsizing the sizes of the technology that they come up with to save on space and launch numerous and versatile satellites. Moreover, this trend saves on the cost of developing the satellites enabling the companies to develop constellations of satellites to serve the communication needs. This idea allows scientists to conduct more missions without challenges. Soon space will host swarms of satellites from different companies and agencies since they are affordable.

Scott Williams of SRI International, who was part of the initial team in developing small satellites. He narrated the whole ordeal that they navigated through to eventually agree to establish a satellite with this type of technology. William explained that the challenge was how to monitor and work with a swarm of satellites exceeding 1000. One of the scientists’ ideas is using 1000 operators, each running a single satellite to form a regular network pattern that works as one unit. However, they discovered that creating a communication pattern after the satellites are deployed can help them utilize one operator to run the whole constellation saving on the cost of employing 1000 people. In real-time, the operator will create artificial intelligence that directs the operation of all the satellites. Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite constellation is an ideal example of this concept. SpaceX, which runs this constellation, deploys the satellites in a batch of 60 to meet the anticipated target of 12000 satellites to deliver 5G internet connection.