Control of Networked Distributed Pico-Satellite Systems

Principal Investigator (PI): Klaus Schilling

A paradigm shift is emerging in spacecraft engineering from single, large, and multifunctional satellites towards cooperating groups of small satellites, forming a sensor network in orbit. This will enable innovative approaches in areas like Earth observation, science exploration or telecommunication. Crucial interdisciplinary key challenges in formation control and in networked satellites are topic of this research proposal.

Modern miniaturization techniques allow realization of satellites with continuously smaller masses, thus enabling cost-efficient implementation of distributed multi-satellite systems. In preparation, my team has already realized two satellites at only 1 kg mass in the University Würzburg’s Experimental satellite (UWE) program, emphasizing core components for formation flying, like communication (UWE-1, launched 2005) and attitude determination (UWE-2, launched 2009).

My vision is to demonstrate  in the proposed research project a cooperating sensor network for four pico-satellites in-orbit, the first time worldwide. To realize this objective, innovative multi-satellite networked orbit control based on relative position and attitude of each satellite is to be implemented in order to enable Earth observations based on multipoint measurements. Related sensor systems used in my laboratory in research for advanced characterization of teams of mobile robots will be transferred to the space environment. Breakthroughs are expected by combining optimal control strategies for coordination of relative motion with a robust flow of information in the network of satellites and ground stations, implemented via innovative use of ad-hoc networks in space. Based on my team’s expertise in implementing very small satellites, first time a satellite system composed of four satellites will be launched to demonstrate autonomous distributed sensor network technologies in orbit.

This research evaluation in space is expected to open up significant application potential for future distributed satellite system services in Earth and scientific observations.


For more detailed information about the project, please contact Prof. Dr. Klaus Schilling.