An analytical low-cost deployment strategy for satellite constellations

McGrath, Ciara and Kerr, Emma and Macdonald, Malcolm (2015) An analytical low-cost deployment strategy for satellite constellations. In: 13th Reinventing Space Conference, 2015-11-09 - 2015-11-12.

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    Abstract

    This work proposes a novel method for the deployment of a constellation of nano-satellites into Low Earth Orbit by using carrier vehicles to deliver the nano-satellites into the required orbit positions. The analytical solution presented allows for rapid exploration of the design space and a direct optimisation of the deployment strategy to minimise the time for complete constellation deployment. Traditionally, the deployment of satellite constellations requires numerous launches – at least one per orbital plane – which can be costly. Launching as a secondary payload may offer significant cost reductions, but this comes at the price of decreased control over the launch schedule and final orbit parameters. The analytical method presented here allows for the optimal positioning of the orbit planes of the constellation to be determined and the minimum time for deployment determined as a function of the manoeuvre ΔV. The effect of atmospheric drag on the manoeuvre propellant cost is also considered to ensure a realistic deployment scenario. A case study considering three constellation designs is presented which compares the cost of deployment using traditional launch methods with that of deploying the constellation using carrier vehicles. The results of this study show a significant reduction in cost when using the carrier vehicles on a dedicated launch, compared with launching the satellites individually. Most significantly, the launch cost when using carrier vehicles is primarily determined by the total number of satellites in the constellation, rather than the number of orbital planes. Thus, the carrier vehicle deployment strategy would allow for constellations with a large number of planes to be deployed for a fraction of the equivalent cost if traditional launch methods were used.