Caltech KISS (Keck Institute for Space Studies) and JPL R&TD:

Distributed Swarm Antenna Arrays for Deep Space Applications

The key strategic goals are to investigate the feasibility of constructing a deep space reconfigurable high-bandwidth communication system using swarms of interconnected or free-flying satellites. The secondary objective is to develop active and passive radar science applications based on the swarm array architectures. Swarms of low-cost SmallSats (MicroSats, CubeSats, FemtoSats, etc) can deliver a comparable or greater mission capability than large monolithic spacecraft, but with significantly enhanced flexibility (adaptability, scalability, evolvability, and maintainability) and robustness (reliability, survivability, and fault-tolerance). 

 Autonomous spacecraft swarms are emerging as a breakthrough space technology to enable low-cost, highly-reconfigurable apertures with high impact on several areas of science from deep space, such as imaging, remote sensing, solar energy collection, and communication, whose development are often hindered by a prohibitively high cost of a monolithic system. Multifunctional systems, in which multiple subsystems are tightly integrated into one single tile-like satellite, called TileSats, can further reduce volume, mass, and cost. Hence, the project aims to develop swarms of small TileSats with multifunctional capabilities to enable new deep space missions. This project is unique even from the swarm research perspectives because of tight and systematic integration between swarm G&C study and impactful applications such as deep space communication and radar science. The focus of this first-year project is on the system engineering study of connecting a point design to JPL’s technical capabilities and future missions in the areas of deep space communication.