Physics-Driven Swarm Autonomy for On-Demand and Transforming Shapes and Functions

Physics-Driven Swarm Autonomy for On-Demand and Transforming Shapes and Functions

The key objective is to establish swarms of autonomous systems that can behave and function like a monolithic autonomous vehicle, which is performing a real-time 4D tomography construction of a complex, time-varying, and moving/rotating object, with performance, robustness, cost efficiency, and reconfigurability that exceed those of a comparable monolithic system. The underlying swarm autonomy framework will be derived as a plug-and-play module that can be easily adopted for JPL’s future missions.

The aim is to demonstrate the effectiveness of physics-driven swarm autonomy for transformable and on-demand swarm autonomous systems in realistic, physical environments, leveraging CAST’s one-of-a-kind drone flight arena with a distributed fan array and spacecraft simulation facility equipped with multiple 6-DOF floating spacecraft. At the culmination of this project, these experimental results will be used to develop a spaceflight technology demonstration mission that can push the frontier of distributed space and aerial robotic systems that can reconfigure themselves in a fully autonomous fashion without ground-in-the-loop control. Autonomous swarms will revolutionize how to design, control, and operate our future space and autonomous drone systems.

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.

Autonomous Assembly and Construction in Space