Identifying effective sink node combinations in spacecraft data transfer networks

Clark, Ruaridh and McGrath, Ciara Nora and Macdonald, Malcolm (2022) Identifying effective sink node combinations in spacecraft data transfer networks. Applied Network Science, 7 (1). 37. ISSN 2364-8228 (

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Complex networks are emerging in low-Earth-orbit as the communication architectures of inter-linked space systems. These data transfer networks vary based on spacecraft interaction with targets and ground stations, which respectively represent source and sink nodes for data flowing through the network. We demonstrate how networks can be used to identify effective sink node selections that, in combination, provide source coverage, high data throughput, and low latency connections for intermittently connected, store-and-forward space systems. The challenge in this work is to account for the changing data transfer network that varies significantly depending on the ground stations selected -- given a system where data is downlinked by spacecraft at the first opportunity. Therefore, passed-on networks are created to capture the redistribution of data following a sink node's removal from the system, a problem of relevance to traffic management in a variety of flow network applications. Modelling the system using consensus dynamics, enables sink node selections to be evaluated in terms of their source coverage and data throughput. While restrictions in the depth of propagation when defining passed-on networks, ensures the optimisation implicitly rewards lower latency connections. This is a beneficial by-product for both space system design and store-and-forward data networks in general. The passed-on networks also provide an insight into the relationship between sink nodes, with eigenvector embedding-based communities identifying sink node divisions that correspond with differences in source node coverage.