. 24/7 Space News .
NASA works to give satellite swarms a hive mind
by Karl B. Hille for GSFC News
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Sep 03, 2021

Setting the following spacecraft to maximize drag and the leader to minimize drag will cause the follower to drop in altitude and catch up to the leader.

Swarms of small satellites could communicate amongst themselves to collect data on important weather patterns at different times of the day or year, and from multiple angles. Such swarms, using machine learning algorithms, could revolutionize scientists' understanding of weather and climate changes.

Engineer Sabrina Thompson is working on software to enable small spacecraft, or SmallSats, to communicate with each other, identify high-value observation targets, and coordinate attitude and timing to get different views of the same target.

"We already know that Saharan dust blowing over to the Amazon rainforests affects cloud formation over the Atlantic Ocean during certain times of the year," said Thompson, who works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "How do you capture that cloud formation? How do you tell a swarm of satellites what region and time of day is the best to observe that phenomenon?"

Under Thompson's plan, scientists would establish a set of requirements for observations and define high-value targets. Then the software would take over, enabling a spacecraft swarm to figure out how to move relative to one another to best observe these targets. Strategies might also change based on time of day, season, or the region being observed. The spacecraft also would use onboard machine learning to improve viewing strategies over time.

"There are several types of swarm configuration being considered," Thompson said. "One might be a swarm where satellites will be in different orbits, which will allow them to view a cloud or other phenomenon at different angles. Another swarm could view the same phenomena with similar view, but at different times of the day. A third type of swarm might combine both, with some satellites in the same orbit, following one another with some time offset, and other satellites which may be in orbits with different altitudes and/or inclinations."

While a swarm would stay within the same orbit, individual spacecraft could even use something called differential drag control - manipulating the forces caused by Earth's atmosphere dragging against the orbiting craft - to control the time separation between each spacecraft relative to others in the swarm, she said.

"The length of time it takes to perform a differential drag maneuver depends on the spacecraft mass and area, as well as the orbital altitude. For instance, it can take as long as one year or as short as a couple of days, even hours."

"With multiple spacecraft in one formation to view the same target," Thompson said, "you can see a cloud, for instance, not just from the top, but from the sides as well." In a different formation, you can see that cloud at different stages of its life-cycle from multiple SmallSats passing at different times.

Working with University of Maryland - Baltimore County (UMBC) professor Jose Vanderlei Martins, Thompson helped develop the Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter (HARP) CubeSat that launched from the International Space Station (ISS) just over a year ago. An updated version of its instrumentation, called HARP2, will fly on the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission planned for launch in 2023.

A swarm of SmallSats like HARP, sharing information and coordinating coverage, could advance weather forecasting, disaster reporting, and climate modeling in the long term, Vanderlei Martins said. To get there, scientists need the combination of wide and narrow fields of view and high-resolution imagery to better understand the dynamics of weather system development.

"Ideally, I like to have a satellite with a wide field of view observing larger phenomenon," he said. "However, a small satellite covering a large area cannot make high spatial resolution observations. Nevertheless, you can use it as a surveyor type of satellite to identify the area of interest. Then you have others with a narrower field of view, getting higher resolution, getting much more detail."

Enabling the swarm to make decisions and share information is crucial. Vanderlei Martins said, "These sorts of decisions need to be made in minutes. You don't have time for ground control to be involved."

Thompson noted that reducing reliance on ground control and communications networks also frees up resources for SmallSat missions with limited budgets.

As an aerospace engineer working towards an atmospheric physics degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Thompson went back to school to learn more about the Earth science requirements that drive her work as an innovator. "I also really wanted to understand climate change."

How aerosol particles and clouds interact is crucial to understanding climate change. Polarimeters can provide a wealth of data about particles suspended in the atmosphere - from smoke, ash, and dust to water droplets and ice, each species of particle polarizes light reflected from it in detectable ways.

"At a basic level, my research involves evaluating the geometry between instruments on the satellite and the sun," Thompson said. "These instruments are passive. They require a certain geometry relative to the ground target and Sun to retrieve the science data we want."

Her algorithms will determine the most suitable combinations of orbit and instrument field of views to give the largest probability of observing a cloud with the appropriate geometry to retrieve science data. Then it would plan and execute maneuvering schemes for each spacecraft to achieve those geometries relative to the other satellites in the swarm.

This work to understand the structure and development of clouds ties in with the Atmosphere Observing System, or AOS, (formerly the Aerosols and Clouds, Convection and Precipitation study identified as a priority in the 2017 Earth Decadal Survey. Vanderlei Martins and Thompson believe their swarm technology complements AOS's science objectives and could enhance upcoming NASA Earth science missions.

Related Links
Hyper-Angular Rainbow Polarimeter (HARP) CubeSat
Atmosphere Observing System
The latest information about the Commercial Satellite Industry

Thanks for being there;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5+ Billed Monthly

paypal only
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal

OneWeb confirms another successful launch, accelerating business momentum
London UK (SPX) Aug 24, 2021
OneWeb has confirmed the next successful launch of 34 satellites by Arianespace from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The launch follows the successful completion of OneWeb's 'Five to 50' mission and highlights the momentum of the business as it prepares to both introduce commercial service and focus on scaling to global service. This latest successful launch brings OneWeb's total in-orbit constellation to 288 satellites. These will form part of OneWeb's 648 LEO satellite fleet that will deliver high-spee ... read more

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

ESA at the 36th Space Symposium

New Israeli innovation hub seeks foodtech 'revolutions'

Russian cosmonauts to track air leaks with vibration sensors

Can devices that never wear out come into reality?

Application of fission-powered spacecraft in solar system exploration missions

DLR Lampoldshausen prepares P5 test stand for the technologies of the future

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic amid spaceflight 'mishap' probe

AFRL extends capability for testing solid rocket motors with new equipment

NASA thinks Mars rover succeeded in taking rock sample

Mars mission to pause for about 50 days

NASA's Perseverance plans next sample attempt

Mars helicopter sees potential rover road ahead

Space exploration priority of nation's sci-tech agenda

New extravehicular pump ensures stable operation of China's space station

Chinese astronauts out of spacecraft for second time EVA

China's astronauts make spacewalk to upgrade robotic arm

NASA works to give satellite swarms a hive mind

Space science project funding available for UK space projects

Maxar awarded contract to build SXM-10 satellite for SiriusXM

OneWeb confirms another successful launch, accelerating business momentum

DARPA transitions next-generation phased array system

Spacecraft deorbiting device developed at Purdue ready for upcoming test launch

Sand is one of our most used resources, but the industry is not sustainable

Researchers biomines vanadium aboard ISS

Cold planets exist throughout our Galaxy, even in the Galactic bulge

New class of habitable exoplanets are 'a big step forward' in the search for life

Did nature or nurture shape the Milky Way's most common planets

New ESO observations show rocky exoplanet has just half the mass of Venus

A few steps closer to Europa: spacecraft hardware makes headway

Juno joins Japan's Hisaki satellite and Keck Observatory to solve "energy crisis" on Jupiter

Hubble finds first evidence of water vapor on Ganymede

NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for the Europa Clipper Mission

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.