Distributed Space Systems

How can we observe the radiation from the early universe, just after the Big Bang? How can we measure the drift of continents to millimeter accuracy? How can we place telescopes in space which are thousands of kilometers in size? How can we provide internet to everyone on Earth, irrespective of where they live? The answer to all these questions requires Distributed Space Systems.

Distributed Space Systems are systems where several satellites work together or are jointly used to achieve a common goal. Depending on the goal, different concepts for such systems can be thought of. These concepts can be characterized by the distance between these satellites and their control accuracy. The Rendezvous and Docking of spacecraft involves small distances and requires high control accuracy. Formation Flying spacecraft achieve their mission goals typically at distances of several to many kilometers. Constellations of spacecraft often fly at distances of thousands of kilometers between individual spacecraft with low control accuracy demands. The number of spacecraft in a Distributed Space System can range from two to several hundreds or even thousands.

The area of Distributed Space Systems covers architectures where multiple satellites act jointly to reach a common goal. Examples of Distributed Space Systems are constellations, formation flying, and satellite swarms. We focus on navigation and control of multiple satellites, disruptive concepts, and on-orbit servicing. Distributed space systems such as formations and swarms offer many cost advantages  and new functional and performance opportunities, as well as various scientific and engineering challenges. This may lead to new architectures, disruptive engineering approaches, and novel technologies, enabling new capabilities, enhancing characteristics, and reducing cost.