The concept of fractionated spacecraft is currently the topic of a research program within the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aiming to generate a new paradigm for space systems, especially in the responsive space sector. The approach aims to overcome the drawbacks of large, monolithic spacecraft of today, like responsiveness and delay cascading in manufacturing . This approach would also allow for a disruptive change in how satellites are built and used, since the establishing of a space infrastructure lowers the entry barrier for satellite building and allows for resource sharing. The main idea is to further modularize satellites up to the point where the monolithic spacecraft can be decomposed into a network of wirelessly linked modules, all separate smaller spacecraft, flying in a cluster and providing the same or more capabilities than a single spacecraft. For a conceptual assessment, mainly regarding its influences on the aerospace sector, resulting from standardization and mass production market, the reader is referred to .
Currently the projects funded by DARPA (under the title of System F6) are in their Phase 1 and 2 studies, with the aim of a having a flight ready system in 2012. This prototype mission would last only shortly and just test some of the main capabilities, like proximity flying and wirelessly connecting new nodes. A fully functional system is proposed to be in operation by 2016 . These milestones seem rather optimistic from the current point of view, and 2019 seems to be a more reasonable assumption for a working system, which would also have added functionality by then, for example, multiple orbital configurations. The system aims also to produce plug-and-play satellites, which would reduce the development time and lower the cost due to mass production. These core satellites, with the necessary functionalities to share resources with the other nodes in the system, would then be equipped with the payload and could be launched rather quickly (also from aircrafts or submarines)
Small Satellite Systems and Services - The 4S Symposium (Link)
The Small Satellites Systems and Services Symposium, the '4S Symposium', is a biennial event started in 1992. The 4S Symposium, with an ever increasing international participation over the years, had 25 nations represented in the last event. The coordination with two other conferences, namely the Berlin conference on Small Satellites, organized by DLR and the AIAA Small Satellites organized by Utah State University, ensures that new and original subjects will be presented and will offer wide opportunities to exchange ideas on technologies and opinions on the future evolution of Small Satellites.
References and Links
Links to further reading, papers and presentation about the fractionated spacecraft concept.
- O. Brown, P. Eremenko and B. A. Hamilton, Fractionated space architectures: A vision for responsive space, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, 2006.
- C. Mathieu, Assessing the fractionated spacecraft concept, MasterŐs thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006.
- D. M. LoBsoco, G. E. Cameron, R. A. Golding, and T. M. Wong, The Pleiades fractionated space system architecture and the future of national security space, In AIAA Space, 2008.