Satellites – a new “diffused” approach

Some of the best developments in space technology started in the laboratories of universities. In the perfect conditions for creative thinking, scientists come up with ideas that very often become technology breakthroughs.

The European Research Council (ERC) will support research at the Technion at Haifa in Israel, aimed at developing a method that will allow satellites to be launched in parts.

The ERC will provide €1.5 million ($2.1 million) for research by Prof Pini Gurfil of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion, who proposes launching satellites in parts, so that a complete satellite whose components communicate with each other wirelessly can be constructed.

“In unexpected situations, such as damage from space debris, a satellite might not react well and could discontinue its original task; functional and financial damages are thus unavoidable,” explains Prof Gurfil.

“For example, if the payload is damaged, the entire system becomes unusable, and in order to complete the task the entire instrument must be replaced. This procedure is very expensive and time consuming. It is much easier to change a payload module than launch a new satellite.”

This idea led to a new concept in space engineering, dubbed disaggregated spacecraft. In disaggregated space architectures (DSA), several separate modules communicate with each other via wireless communication links, thus forming a single virtual platform.

Each module has its own designated function or functions: navigation, attitude control, power generation and payload operation.

The independent modules are able to distribute resources among themselves and do not have to be very close to each other to operate. They only have to be in relative proximity, so that they form a cluster.

According to the Israeli scientist, DSA constitutes a new type of space engineering that is expected to be more efficient in terms of responsiveness, which is the ability to adapt to unexpected scenarios resulting from several sources of uncertainty at different levels of task design and execution.

The final goal of the proposed research is to develop innovative technology that will enable actual flight in a DSA formation.

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