In an exciting new development for space exploration, NASA is set to launch a groundbreaking mission called Starling. The mission aims to test the capabilities of autonomous cooperation among CubeSats, small satellites that are becoming increasingly popular for scientific and commercial purposes.
The unique aspect of this mission is that the CubeSats will operate independently in Earth’s orbit without real-time updates from mission control. This level of autonomy is crucial for future deep space missions where communication delays with Earth are inevitable.
Starling is expected to last at least six months and will serve as a testbed for various technologies that will be essential for future deep space missions. The CubeSats will operate in two formations, testing capabilities for cooperative satellite swarms in deep space.
Some of the key objectives of the mission include maneuvering the CubeSats to stay grouped, creating a flexible communications network, tracking relative positions, and responding to sensor information. To achieve these objectives, the mission will test four new technologies including software for autonomous planning and execution of maneuvers, a mobile ad-hoc network for communication, and the use of star tracker sensors to keep the swarm together.
Additionally, the mission will also demonstrate the capacity of a swarm of spacecraft to collect and analyze science data onboard. This is a significant step forward as it shows the potential for future missions to have the capability to conduct research without relying on constant communication with Earth.
After the primary mission, Starling will collaborate with SpaceX’s Starlink, the satellite internet constellation, to test space traffic management techniques. This collaboration aims to ensure the safe operations of autonomous spacecraft in close proximity in low-Earth orbit.
The success of the mission will contribute to understanding the rules of the road for space traffic management, an increasingly important aspect of space exploration as the number of satellites in orbit continues to rise.
The ability to operate satellites and spacecraft in a networked, autonomous, and coordinated capacity is crucial for future space exploration and scientific endeavors. The Starling mission will play a key role in advancing our understanding and capabilities in these areas, paving the way for exciting new possibilities in space.