Distributed small satellites networks can range from a few to hundreds of spacecraft. The utility of distributed satellite networks depends upon the ability of each individual spacecraft in the network to act as an informed, but independent, node. As these networks grow, traditional human-in-the-loop operations becomes cumbersome, if not impossible. The US government is seeking technologies to support autonomous, self-organizing distributed satellite networks. The objective is safe, autonomously (human-off-the-loop) flight utilizing sensors and technologies that are hosted and/or can be hosted on a small satellite. Solutions should be capable of re-configuring the distributed satellite network autonomously based on evolving operational user defined mission set(s). Current or emerging capabilities to support this objective are sought.
The CubeSat standard has driven node cost of a single spacecraft down significantly. New capabilities are envisioned based on the low-cost accessibility of small spacecraft. These capabilities and the mission sets they will serve can only be realized by driving autonomy to the spacecraft (i.e., the node) and the network.
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is becoming e.g., by changing on board processing routines as well as reconfiguring the distributed satellite network). The ability to autonomously reconfigure the network to perform different missions, the ability to maintain a configuration (control, sensing/telemetering, etc. of the nodes), and to react based upon network data collection are all areas of interest.
Lee Jasper, AFRL
Torreon Creekmore, IARPA