You can get involved in one of our ongoing research projects! First, apply here to be a member of the Small Satellites Project Group and then contact the coordinator of the research in which you are interested.
Current Research Activities
“Conceptual Design of a sustainable SmallSat Constellation to enable reliable Lunar communication network”
Coordinated by Ricardo Gomes
National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Artemis program aims to establish a permanent Human presence on the lunar South Pole by the end of the decade. Providing complete and continuous coverage around the Moon using a reliable and sustainable communication infrastructure will be vital for future robotic and human exploration. Such efforts involve high-cost and long lead time solutions, which are often inaccessible to smaller companies and governments. This paper explores the use of a constellation of small satellites, which will enable cost-effective communication infrastructure around the Moon and enhance future communication between lunar missions and Earth. With a focus on SmallSat technologies, such as small form factor CubeSats, the feasibility and practicality of developing a low-cost and sustainable lunar constellation is assessed in this conceptual design study. The proposed work addresses a set of system trade-offs and places a focus on Optical Communication Technology (OCT), an indispensable technology with substantial applications in space communication. OCTs have the potential to enable high data rates and minimize crowd spectrum usage, making them a promising solution for lunar communication networks. The most promising satellite architecture solution that meets the defined requirements is presented. Furthermore, the paper discusses the rarely addressed problem of disposal strategies for debris mitigation on cislunar orbits, as part of the sustainable development goals defined by United Nations (UN). The present work tackles the conceptual design and the architecture of a sustainable OCT constellation of SmallSats in a frozen orbit around the Moon to enable a reliable communication network and to contribute to create the building blocks for future space exploration infrastructure.
“A Constellation Based Approach to an Orbital Manufacturing Ecosystem”
Coordinated by Bruce Clark
The space environment offers unique possibilities for manufacturing. From manufacturing techniques that are only possible in microgravity to the innate cleanliness of a vacuum, a new area of the space industry is rapidly opening up. Two streams are evident within orbital manufacturing. Return missions provide services for manufacturing pure materials (e.g. creation of lightweight alloys for use in environmentally friendly airframes), while non-return missions use assembly techniques to combine components into complex assemblies (e.g. production of 3D printed composites for use in assembling orbital structures, or at a macro level, construction of structures such as the ISS). Initiatives such as NASA’s OSAM-1 satellite show that these two mission profiles are not mutually exclusive and are critical for supporting future efforts for construction of large structures in orbit. As more actors become involved in on-orbit manufacturing the sector is becoming more complex, with areas beginning to interact in new and interesting ways. In short, a new orbital manufacturing ecosystem is developing. This paper investigates how this new on-orbit manufacturing ecosystem might function. In addition to assessing the benefits of and markets for downstream products of a thriving on-orbit manufacturing ecosystem, this paper addresses areas that require technological advancement to unlock their full potential, and identifies where policy and regulation need to change in order to support growth. This paper proposes that an on-orbit manufacturing ecosystem also offers the potential to enhance space sustainability by reusing components and materials from decommissioned satellites, and discusses where orbital servicing technology could be repurposed to suit this aim. It is evident that a complete manufacturing ecosystem presents significant logistical challenges from acquisition of raw material to deployment of the finished product. This paper proposes best practice approaches to on-orbit manufacture, and presents an analysis of advantages and limitations between difference on-orbit manufacturing paradigms. Finally, this paper outlines a satellite constellation based approach to orbital manufacturing, and highlights how distributing the tasks and manufacturing capabilities between multiple satellites within the constellation can provide support to all areas of an orbital manufacturing ecosystem.
“Analyzing the Impacts of Climate Change on N2O Emissions from Soil Using Small Satellites”
Coordinated by Kiran Mankame
The increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gasses (GHG) is resulting in their heightened absorption by oceans, land, and forests. Although the ground and plants absorb only around 10 With the growing effects of climate change, it is projected that the atmospheric concentration of N2O will increase significantly. Rapidly fluctuating soil temperature and precipitation due to climate warming and weather change are causing the emission of CO2, CH4, N2O, and loss of Phosphorous, which affects plants’ growth. The available finite data indicates such deteriorating soil health will impact agriculture in the coming decades by rising social issues such as food shortage, food storage, inflation, and recession and generating health issues like malnutrition, deprivation of the immune system, etc. Monitoring GHG emissions from the soil will provide data that can aid in the early response and maintenance of soil health. This paper analyzes the requirements for the GHG emissions monitoring mission to investigate the use of this data to monitor soil health. The main focus of the project is to propose the rational mission concept to guarantee the constant and accurate monitoring of the atmospheric concentration of N2O. Dedicated small satellite missions can deliver global emission mapping coverage, which will improve the understanding of soil GHG emissions and health dynamics. Furthermore, this will increase the diversity of the data available across different climates, landscapes, and crop types for enhanced response. However, depending on the particular used case and final data user the mission concepts and satellite compositions can differ. As the result of the use cases definition and stakeholders’ interviews on important parameters to be tracked, the paper proposes a rational small satellite monitoring mission profile. Particular attention is paid to the inversion algorithms and requirements to derive them. Furthermore, the paper exhibits how Earth Observation data of soil health can mitigate the intensity of mentioned social and economic crises.
“Feasibility Study of Orbit Control Methods in CubeSats with Electric Propulsion for an Interplanetary Mission”
Coordinated by Pallavi Prasad
With ESA Science Programme Voyage 2050, there is a need for technology developments in terms of more efficient power and propulsion systems for future space missions. With regards to this, many science missions have been proposed for solar system exploration, sample return, search for extra-terrestrial life, exoplanets search and understanding of the early universe. However, all such missions need an efficient and reliable satellite or a constellation of satellites. Efficient propulsion and control methods can contribute in designing a satellite which is reliable and can serve in achieving ambitious science objectives. In order to design such a satellite, different orbit control mechanisms and electric propulsion systems have to be evaluated and adapted to the mission requirements. Thus, this paper discusses the feasibility of electric propulsion technologies along with orbit control methods in CubeSats for an interplanetary mission. With growing interest in small scale satellites, the demand for propulsion systems with moderate power levels (between 1 to 20kW) has also increased. In line with the demand of such a propulsion system, a hybrid propulsion model with electric propulsion and solar sails is investigated in this study. This paper presents a particular case of a CubeSat orbiting Jupiter’s polar orbit which can contribute in achieving various science goals such as understanding Jupiter’s magnetosphere and studying the mass and energy flows in the Io-Jupiter system. A high-level phase 0/A, mission analysis and feasibility study, of such an electric propulsion centric mission is conducted. Furthermore, the study exhibits a trade-off analysis of spacecraft power requirement vis-`a-vis mass and thruster, trajectory design and manoeuvring, orbit determination and flight path control mechanisms which can lead to an efficient mission to the Jovian system.
“Investigating the Applications of Small Satellites in the Measurement and Evaluation of the Essential Ocean Variables”
Coordinated by Emma Belhadfa
The state of Earth’s complex ocean network is a clear indicator of the effects of the climate crisis. From the bleaching of corals to the acidification of the water, the condition of our oceans has reached a critical point, jeopardizing the health and livelihoods of billions globally. By capitalizing on the cost-efficiency of small satellites, the testing of existing and emerging technology can be more easily implemented to evaluate ocean health, improving global understanding of climate change. The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) programme from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) has laid out a list of 54 Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) for characterizing the Earth’s climate. Of these ECVs, 19 are the Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) that monitor the health of our oceans. These can be further subcategorized into groups describing the Ocean Surface Physics, Subsurface Ocean Physics, Biogeochemistry and observations on Ocean Biology or Ecosystems. Satellites are the only currently available tool to observe 71 The objective of this paper is to evaluate the role that satellites, especially small satellites (¡500kg), have in monitoring the EOVs. This paper reviews current earth observation payloads and data and their relevance to the evaluation of the EOVs. The study evaluates emerging methods (novel optics systems, object based image analysis, etc.) to measure EOVs remotely and consolidate the relevant data into effective methods of communication. Active and passive remote sensing techniques and their applications across the visible, infrared, and microwave bands are evaluated. Based on this information, a framework is proposed using multiple platforms and constellation systems for the development of a cost-efficient plan to provide an optimal global view for each EOV. The goal is to improve ocean forecasts, early warnings, and climate projections. The final purpose of this paper is to evaluate the influence of the emerging open-source data on international climate policy and coordination. By leveraging the nearglobal coverage of remote imaging networks, potential gaps in observation and the corresponding effects on policy are identified, suggesting methods to develop more accessible and useful data collection. This research is conducted by members of the Small Satellite Project Group (SSPG), representing the Space Generation Advisory Council’s (SGAC) efforts to evaluate the role of students and young professionals in the fight to combat the climate crisis.
“Developing a Small Satellite Mission to Monitor Ocean Acidification within the Polar Seas”
Coordinated by Emma Belhadfa
About a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere is reabsorbed by the oceans every year thus decreasing the global ocean’s pH level. Seawater acidification presents a serious threat to a variety of marine species in terms of biotic potential, survival rates, and mobility. Specifically, the polar seas are acidifying more rapidly in comparison to the global ocean, making this region an area of interest to monitor the latest effects of climate change. Earth observation (EO) payloads offer unique imaging benefits, such as wide, unobtrusive observations, uniformity, near real-time data collection, and much more. They can be used to map changes occurring in the planet’s atmosphere as well as in the complex water network. The hostile nature of the polar seas makes it difficult to perform repeated and timely in-situ measurements and thus, earth-orbiting satellites are capable of remotely imaging difficult to reach areas, making them particularly suitable for monitoring this region. This approach presented in this paper takes advantage of small satellites’ cost efficiency to test newer payloads and technologies in such regions. The objectives of this paper are three-fold; firstly, it highlights the current state of Ocean Acidification (OA), within the sensitive polar regions of our planet. Secondly, it proposes a constellation of small satellites for the dedicated monitoring of these effects on the planet’s cryosphere. In particular, it addresses essential mission parameters to achieve these objectives, including payload selection, orbit design, mass and power budgeting, data handling and communication, and end-of-life disposal. Lastly, the benefits of this increased monitoring are addressed, including the socio-economic impacts on immediately-affected regions. Additionally, this mission provides a framework for the development of future EO missions within and beyond the polar regions. The proposed mission parameters, which specifically tackle the challenges of hostile regions, and selection methodology can be adapted for various geographical areas of interest. The thorough design process outlined in this paper targets more precise areas and issues, setting the foundation for the implementation of small satellite missions within new and existing constellation systems. The development of this mission has been conducted by a multinational and multi-disciplinary team of students and young professionals, on behalf of the Small Satellite Project Group (SSPG), a subset of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC).
“Conceptual design of a reusable multipurpose tug with a grappling mechanism for space debris mitigation”
Coordinated by Sai Kiran Parre
Commercialization of orbit is on the rise with the increasing potential of Earth observation and inspace services. Commercialization has caused a steep rise in the number of satellites launched into space as CubeSats of different sizes and is making the orbits congested, increasing the chances of collisions, leading to Kessler syndrome. This paper details the conceptual design of a reusable space tug – a spacecraft for active orbital debris removal. Space tugs are the vehicles which are already in orbit which can be exploited to perform the transfer maneuvers of space debris. The space tug presented here is conceived to be used for the transfer of debris and satellites from low to high orbits, and vice versa, if needed. The paper starts with an overview of the mission scenario, the concept of operations, and the related architecture elements. The main focus of the design of the space tug is based on the type of propulsion system onboard used with an estimation of availability of resources in space after the commercialization of LEO. Hypergolic and Mono propellant propulsion systems are being considered for the space tug design. Then a detailed requirements analysis is performed to give it capabilities of a multi-purpose vehicle with a grappling mechanism to capture debris and also load it with satellites to act as a tug. The entire mission and Space tug design goes through an iterative and recursive design process optimizing according to orbits (for LEO and GEO). The ultimate objective of the research is to create a family of modular, economically feasible space tugs that use a common platform and share various components, which would allow providing relatively inexpensive and responsive on-demand debris removal and tugging services.
This paper will analyze the growth of interest in the small satellite communications sector and to afford background knowledge on the technological capabilities of current providers. A feasibility study is performed to assess the main actors in the field and their ability to contribute to Project GIGA’s ultimate goal of connectivity for every school. Through a multifaceted lens, the paper identifies the benefits and potential obstacles of constellation-based satellite broadband internet. Where necessary, possible solutions and workarounds are explored to allow a coherent assessment on the practicality of Project GIGA’s connectivity objective. With this research Project GIGA will have a baseline to begin their outreach and development initiatives.
“Machine Learning for Earth Observation Small Satellites: A Review”
While satellite image processing has benefitted massively from the ongoing AI revolution, the same cannot be said for other aspects of the Earth Observation industry. This project’s aim is to act as a bridge between the Earth Observation small satellite community and the machine learning community, highlighting potential opportunities. We will develop a State of the Art review exploring all on-board and off-board applications of Machine Learning to Earth Observation outside of image processing on ground. The review is to be published at a main space industry venue and it will be complemented by outreach material to expand on noteworthy concepts found during its development.
“Mission Design for In-Orbit Demonstration of Active Debris Removal through an Ion Beam Shepherd Small Satellite”
The continuous use of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) poses several risks when companies focus on near term business success rather than long term sustainability and safety of operations. This project explores the technological challenges of one of the mission concepts for active debris removal, i.e.: the Ion Beam Shepherd, and proposes strategies and the required steps to propose a demonstration mission, this includes proximity operations, on-orbit inspection and the possibility to perform contactless deorbiting of a non-cooperative target in order to achieve safety of operations. An overview of the different approaches is provided, analyzing the current architectures and technologies.
“A Review of Near Future Optical Technology for High-Speed and Secure CubeSat Communications”
The next generation of high speed and secure communication is envisioned using Lasercom photonic modules. These components allow great compactness and efficiency of use suitable for CubeSat type satellites. How they will be integrated into existing RF systems remains an ongoing topic. This project follows the current technological readiness of lasercom and their integration into small satellites.
“Analytical Demonstration of Artificial Intelligence Assisted Swarm CubeSats for Active Debris Removal in LEO ”
Space debris is considered as a serious problem it has to averted as it has the potential to be a spoilsport for any space missions. In past decades numerous Space debris capturing and removal methods have been proposed. However, the amount of debris in the LEO orbit rather than decreasing it just accumulated even before. This paper aims to bring a new, economical and efficient solution to remove space junk. using swarm robotics technology The paper discusses the functionality and feasibility of the proposal. In addition to that, it explains how this concept can be effective comparing to other past proposals and describes how the prototypes will be developed.
“Small Satellites potential for Greenhouse Gas and CO2 Monitoring”
Small satellites can improve the global emission mapping coverage and image update rates, which will improve the understanding of the CO2 and GHG dynamics. Today there are several small satellite missions carrying hyperspectral Short-Wave Infrared Imaging (SWIR) imaging instrumentation, providing gas emissions data. However, alternative missions, instrumentation combinations and satellite architectures are possible. This paper aims to analyse the requirements for the emission sensing instrumentation for the installation on the small satellite platform. It is reviewed together with small satellite platform architecture and the use cases. From that, the rational mission profile for small satellite utilisation for the monitoring is derived.
“Low-Thrust Trajectory Design and Mars Orbit Insertion Strategies for Interplanetary Cubesats”
This paper focuses on interplanetary CubeSats in Mars orbit. It considers Earth-Mars trajectory design from launch to Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI). Three CubeSat options (3U, 6U and 12U) are assessed and compared, taking into account different low-thrust propulsive technologies such as gridded ion thrusters and Hall-effect thrusters. Several options for orbit capture at Mars are evaluated to cover different mission profiles depending on the arrival conditions and targeted orbital parameters. In this context, this research paper provides a useful baseline for the trajectory design of interplanetary CubeSats missions to Mars and shows that CubeSats can successfully be integrated to support interplanetary missions.
Concluded Research Activities
“Optical Communications for Small Satellites: A Review of Pointing Strategies & Requirements Optimization”
Research Objective: Analysis of demand and use-cases for future Mars constellations and feasibility study of a smallsat constellation to provide global communication services on Mars.
Support organizations: Crowdspace
Wischert D., Baranwal P., Bonnart S., Álvarez M., Colpari R., Daryabari M., Desai S., Dhoju S., Fajardo G., Faldu B., López-Contreras González E., Low P., Malcolm K., Mardhani S., Miralles P., Mohanty J., Morchedi S., More H., Ortega-González H., Parasuram S., Romero M., Santra S., Somkuwar A., Soni K., Stepanova D., Thangavel K., Vinayak Bhale K., Zainab R.
During 2020 we have accomplished the following goals:
Conducted series of workshops, such as Iranian International Cubesat Event, USA Summer Space Camp, among others.
Conducted research paper activities, two of them accepted and presented at IAC 2020.
Established several partnerships and developed an advisory board to support the research activities: UNICEF, ScanWay, CrowdSpace, German Orbital Systems.