The site repository for the Satellite ADC Project
Any space exploration can be characterized by an initial, exploratory wave and later, utility oriented waves. Space infrastructure can serve as a stepping stone for exploration, enabling in-space resupply and allowing for incremental exploration, like setting up a base camp when climbing a mountain for the first time. Infrastructure can also serve in later waves, allowing for supply routes and way stations that would make repeated trips to a destination easier. Infrastructure should not consist of monolithic structures. Rather, it would be more efficient if infrastructure consisted of autonomous, distributed systems which could cooperate to achieve multiple goals. This provides fault tolerance and fluidity that a monolithic paradigm does not provide. So, the main research direction of Sentinel is in autonomous, distributed coordination (ADC) between unmanned spacecraft.
Creating spacecraft that are both autonomous and able to coordinate with each other have several advantages over the monolithic spacecraft paradigm. Numerous, cheaper spacecraft capable of coordination could lower the cost of entry and maintenance in space as well as create more than a single point of failure for a mission. The most important fact about autonomous, distributed systems is that they are scalable. The coordination of the spacecraft ensures that as the number of spacecraft launched increases, so too does the capability of the cluster. The autonomy ensures that computational cost and time-delays do not grow with the cluster as well. The project is interdisciplinary because successful creation of ADC involves software, hardware, physical modelling of the target environment, communications architectures, etc. However, the future of space will involve a paradigm shift from monolithic spacecraft to distributed ones, and from remote controlled spacecraft to autonomous ones, for scalability alone.
The context of this research is the autonomous distributed coordination of satellites, as spacecraft will benefit the most from more developed autonomy and coordination. Their environment is resource restricted, and the nature of their environment makes human intervention more difficult than in any other environment on Earth. However, autonomy and coordination of distributed systems is useful for far more than just spacecraft. The portion of this research which is focused on developing autonomous architecture and coordination plans is entirely general, and the research will be conducted in such a way as to produce theory and tooling which applies to more than just the spacecraft environment.