Space for nodular development

Sensing nodes for use in miniature satellites weighing less than 100g are to be developed in the UK.

Sensing nodes for use in miniature satellites weighing less than 100g are to be developed in the UK with support from NASA and Surrey Satellite Technology.

Hundreds of such Picosatellites, each less than one cubic centimetre in size, could be used to provide low-cost continuous communication or Earth imaging.

Researchers at Edinburgh and Surrey universities are working with small satellite specialist SSTL and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop and test the nodes in a project due to begin this summer.

The System on Chip devices will comprise a processor, sensor, wireless communication link and a power source.

The nodes will be capable of communicating with each other, working together in a network to jointly carry out sensing tasks.

This could allow the picosatellites to form large space telescopes or antennas for high bandwidth communication. In space exploration, constellations of picosatellites could also be placed around the Moon or Mars to provide continuous communication with surface rovers or take images of the planet.

Tughrul Arslan, professor of integrated electronic systems at Edinburgh, said the team will build prototype nodes and test them at JPL in California.

‘One of the key issues for NASA is that these architectures need to be robust, so we are going to test them in various extreme conditions of temperature, radiation, and gas. Power will be a major hurdle to overcome in such small, lightweight devices. But by distributing tasks across the network, the drain on each individual device will be reduced, allowing them to conserve energy,’ said Arslan.

The power requirements of elements such as sensing, processing and communication will be traded-off to direct power to those tasks currently needing most energy, added Dr Tanya Vladimirova, senior lecturer in the Surrey Space Centre at Surrey University.

SSTL will launch the prototype nodes, to allow the researchers to study how the devices perform in space, she said.