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Distributed Space Systems

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Distributed Space Systems (DSS) consist of two or more satellites that interact to accomplish scientific, commercial or technological objectives that are otherwise very difficult if not impossible to achieve using a traditional monolithic spacecraft.

Five of our research laboratories conduct synergistic research in the broad area of distributed systems.


The collective goal of these laboratories with respect to this topic is to perform fundamental and applied research to enable Distributed Space Systems (DSS).

Future DSS pose stringent requirements on many aspects of a space mission, from space flight dynamics to orbit determination and prediction, from maneuver planning to guidance, navigation and control (GN&C), and from data handling, processing and communication to autonomous mission planning and operations. Therefore, we are currently investigating:

  • Advanced space mission design and system engineering.
  • Miniaturization of satellites, including micro, nano and femtosatellites.
  • High-dynamic-range and precision spaceborne navigation, including multi-GNSS, vision-based, radio-frequency, laser metrology.
  • Advanced space mechanics and astrodynamics, including absolute and relative orbit design and optimization.
  • Autonomous, robust and embedded GN&C, including autonomous onboard maneuvering and task distribution and decentralization.
  • Advanced payload research, including drag-free control, gravity recovery, starshade optimization and radio occultation.
  • High-fidelity hardware-in-the-loop validation, including free-flying robots, six degree-of-freedom spacecraft testbed, robotic rendezvous testbed, space illumination simulation, and optical and radio- frequency stimulation.

Our research roadmap in this area includes a number of current and proposed space missions that fall under the definition of DSS, such as spacecraft formation-flying, rendezvous and docking, constellations, swarms and fractionated satellites.