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Advanced Automation Concept for Complex Constellation Management

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Advanced Automation Concept for Complex Constellation Management

Recently, a variety of satellite constellations, some of them featuring over a thousand satellites, were announced. While similar concepts for large constellations already existed in the past, existing satellite constellations hardly ever feature triple-digit satellite quantities. At the time of writing, the world’s largest constellation is operated by Planet Labs and consists of 190+ Dove spacecraft.

This trend towards considerably larger constellations originates from the non-traditional design and operation of spacecraft by non-traditional space companies. This evolution in the space sector, precipitated by new players, is often referred to as 'Space 4.0' or 'New Space'. It necessitates a rethinking of the way that satellites and satellite constellations are planned, designed, and operated. The satellite cannot be considered and operated as an individual anymore, and the management of the system as a whole — with a significant increase in automation — has to come to the fore.

There are crucial qualitative challenges that arise when moving from moderately-sized groups of individual spacecraft to large-scale constellations. The consequences of this paradigm shift include higher complexity of (i) basic communication tasks and ground resources allocation, (ii) coordination and higher probability of anomalies, (iii) mission objectives, and (iv) space situational awareness (SSA) functionalities.

New operational paradigms are needed to enable automatic, optimal task definition, and scheduling in a holistic approach. This study evaluated the fundamental challenges that arise when large constellations have to be efficiently operated and automation levels have to be increased, as well as the different automation levels (L1 basic sequential automation, L2 distributed automation, L3 adaptive automation, and L4 mission-aware automation) and their impact on mission operations.

Executive summary