Sunday, December 20, 2009

DARPA bets on 'fracitionated' space fleet


Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is betting that splitting spacecraft duties among a fleet of smaller, wirelessly connected ships is the way to go.
SpaceNews had a story on it Friday.

It's called fractionated spacecraft.
The basics behind it are simple enough: Rather than launch one really heavy satellite loaded with a bunch of different instruments, launch several smaller, lighter (therefore cheaper) spacecraft, and have them work together as a team using wireless communication.

Like networking your PC, laptop, TV and stereo at home.

This type of system also means if one unit fails, the entire system doesn't go down, just that single unit. And patching into the system, or adding on, is as easy as getting wireless access.

This a paradigm shift when it comes to how we do things now, but it's not new. Scientists have been proposing this sort of system for years. Check out this hefty MIT paper on the subject from 2006.

As has happened many times in the past, DARPA is leading the field in pursuit of this new technology. It remains to be seen how, or even if, it will work. But the first flight demonstration is slated for 2013.

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