NASA works to give satellite swarms a hive mind

NASA works to give satellite swarms a hive mind

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.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

Space industry grapples with COVID-19-related oxygen fuel shortage

A pandemic-related shortage of a key rocket propellant, liquid oxygen, could force rocket launches to be postponed in coming months, possibly delaying important scientific and national defense missions, industry observers ... Read more »

Gaofen 5-02 satellite launched from Taiyuan

China launched the Gaofen 5-02 Earth-observation satellite on Tuesday morning at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi province, according to the China National Space Administration. The administration said the ... Read more »

Largest virtual universe free for anyone to explore

Forget about online games that promise you a “whole world” to explore. An international team of researchers has generated an entire virtual UNIVERSE, and made it freely available on the ... Read more »

Laser solid-phase synthesis of single atom catalysts

Laser fabrication of nanoparticles offers a powerful and flexible alternative to the purely chemical approaches. In recent years, laser synthesized precious metal nanoparticles are becoming increasingly important in catalysis due ... Read more »

Kleos secures A$12.6 million to grow constellation

Kleos Space S.A, a space-powered Radio Frequency Reconnaissance data-as-a- service (DaaS) company, has secured A$12.6 million (equivalent to 9.3 million USD) from new and existing institutional and sophisticated investors in ... Read more »

Eutelsat completes OneWeb equity investment

Eutelsat Communications confirms the closing of its $550m equity investment in OneWeb announced on April 27, 2021. Subject to completion of the subsequently announced investments in OneWeb by Bharti and ... Read more »

Global computing's carbon footprint is bigger than previously estimated

The world is more online than ever before, and as the digital economy continues to expand, so does the Internet’s carbon footprint. According to a new study, published Friday in ... Read more »

Smoke alarm, burning smell disrupt crew on International Space Station

Russian cosmonauts woke up to an emergency alarm Thursday in one of their service modules at the International Space Station. Audio from NASA’s television feed caught a French astronaut identifying ... Read more »

New ALMA receivers achieve first light, set record for observational capabilities

new set of receivers installed on antennas at the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have achieved first light. With it, they set a new record for the longest wavelengths visible ... Read more »

Crews at Russian Cosmodrome assemble spacecraft with VR Glasses

Virtual reality glasses are used by the military units of the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Russia to train to assemble space rockets, St. Petersburg-based Mozhaisky Military Space Academy told reporters on ... Read more »

Satellite in sun's backyard unravels the origins of interplanetary dust

What do shooting stars and astronaut safety have in common? Both stem from the sub-microscopic rock fragments found throughout the solar system, sometimes called interplanetary dust. When these particles collide ... Read more »

NASA awards launch services contract for GOES-U Mission

NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-U (GOES-U) mission. GOES-U will provide advanced imagery and atmospheric measurements ... Read more »

DARPA announces research teams to advance fundamental science of atomic vapors

DARPA has announced its selection of eight industry and university research teams to support the Science of Atomic Vapors for New Technologies (SAVaNT) program that kicked off this week. The ... Read more »

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

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is preparing a central component of its extensive test infrastructure for the future by expanding the European Space Agency ... Read more »

Protective equipment against radiation to be tested on Nauka Module on ISS in 2023

New equipment that will help protect people from radiation during interplanetary flights will be tested on the Russian Nauka multipurpose laboratory module at the International Space Station, the head of ... Read more »

German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer is ready for his first ISS mission - 'Cosmic Kiss'

At the end of October 2021, the German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, together with the NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas H. Marshburn and Kayla Barron, are expected to launch to ... Read more »

Astronomers nail down the origins of rare loner dwarf galaxies

By definition, dwarf galaxies are small and dim, with just a fraction of the stars found in the Milky Way and other galaxies. There are, however, giants among the dwarfs: ... Read more »

Rocket flight to sharpen NASA's study of the Sun

It’s best not to look directly at the Sun, unless you’re one of NASA’s Sun-observing instruments. And even then, doing so will cause some damage. Exposure to the Sun degrades ... Read more »

Diamonds in the sky

Scientists from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and Rutgers University have used simple concepts from granular physics to explain the curious diamond shapes of two ... Read more »

Planetary radar observes 1,000th near-earth asteroid since 1968

Seven days after this historic milestone, a massive antenna at NASA’s Deep Space Network Goldstone complex imaged another, far larger object. On Aug. 14, 2021, a small near-Earth asteroid (NEA) ... Read more »

Physicists discover black holes exert a pressure in serendipitous scientific first

Physicists at the University of Sussex have discovered that black holes exert a pressure on their environment, in a scientific first. In 1974 Stephen Hawking made the seminal discovery that ... Read more »

ESA Council agrees resolution on Ariane 6 and Vega-C exploitation and future space transportation

ESA Member States have agreed upon the boundary conditions for Europe’s upcoming exploitation of Ariane 6 and Vega-C and request ESA to propose a roadmap for new and innovative space ... Read more »

The Sun's 11-year cycle cannot explain global warming

The Earth’s global climate system fluctuates in 11-year and 3, 5-year cycles find Yizhak Feliks, Justin Small and Michael Ghil. The study was published in Climate Dynamics on July 15th. ... Read more »

Leak and destroy: On the hunt for climate killing gas

After finding a rusty gas canister near his midwest US home, Rick Karas checked online if it was worth anything. Incredibly, it turned out to be a coveted commodity in ... Read more »

Ariane 5 elements for Webb launch reach Europe's Spaceport

Major elements of the Ariane 5 rocket to launch the James Webb Space Telescope arrived safely in Kourou, French Guiana from Europe on 3 September 2021. The rocket’s fairing, upper ... Read more »

Parker Solar Probe team sheds new light on structure, behavior of inner solar system dust

Scientists using data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe have assembled a comprehensive picture of the structure and behavior of the large cloud of space dust that swirls through the innermost ... Read more »

Astronomers explain origin of elusive ultradiffuse galaxies

As their name suggests, ultradiffuse galaxies, or UDGs, are dwarf galaxies whose stars are spread out over a vast region, resulting in extremely low surface brightness, making them very difficult ... Read more »

Antennas searching for ET threatened by wildfire

The Allen Telescope Array, an ensemble of 42 antennas used in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), is once again threatened by wildfires. The scientists and engineers normally on-site have ... Read more »

Earthlike planets in other solar systems? Look for moons

Finding an exact copy of the Earth somewhere in the universe sounds like a far-fetched notion, but scientists believe that because Earth happened in our solar system, something similar is ... Read more »

China releases first batch of gamma photon data from dark matter explorer

China has released the first batch of gamma photon data obtained by the Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE), according to Science and Technology Daily on Wednesday. The National Space Science ... Read more »

ESO captures best images yet of peculiar "dog-bone" asteroid

Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), a team of astronomers have obtained the sharpest and most detailed images yet of the asteroid Kleopatra. The observations have ... Read more »

New wave of electron research

While studying the behavior of electrons in iron-based superconducting materials, researchers at the University of Tokyo observed a strange signal relating to the way electrons are arranged. The signal implies ... Read more »

D-Orbit UK signs contract with ESA for development of debris removal technology

The UK branch of D-Orbit signed a euro 2,197M contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for phase 1 of the development and in-orbit demonstration of a “Deorbit Kit” as ... Read more »

Independent group formed to advance interoperability in satellite and ground system networks

Leading companies and organizations in the space industry, including two major branches of the U.S. Department of Defense, have come together to form the Digital IF Interoperability (DIFI) Consortium, a ... Read more »

Putting a new theory of many-particle quantum systems to the test

New experiments using trapped one-dimensional gases-atoms cooled to the coldest temperatures in the universe and confined so that they can only move in a line-fit with the predictions of the ... Read more »

Chinese astronauts out of spacecraft for second time EVA

Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming had both slipped out of the space station core module Tianhe by 10:12 a.m. (Beijing Time) on Friday to conduct extravehicular activities (EVAs) ... Read more »

Computers help scientists understand the particles that make up atoms

Scientists use particle accelerators to speed up electrically charged particles to nearly the speed of light. They then smash those particles together to study the new particles that form, including ... Read more »

A few steps closer to Europa: spacecraft hardware makes headway

The hardware that makes up NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is rapidly taking shape, as engineering components and instruments are prepared for delivery to the main clean room at the agency’s ... Read more »

Meteosat Gen 3 takes major step towards its first launch

After many technical and programmatic challenges, the first satellite of the next generation of the Meteosat family has taken a major step towards its first flight, currently scheduled for launch ... Read more »

BlackSky secures investment from Palantir

BlackSky announced Wednesday that Palantir Technologies Inc. has committed to making an equity investment in BlackSky, which is scheduled to close after the completion of BlackSky’s business combination with Osprey ... Read more »