This Defense Update post sounds like something I may have talked about before–using a flock of small maneuvering satellites, with each satellite within the flock taking an image and using each image to build a big, high resolution image–one a bigger, more expensive satellite might get with a big imagery sensor. NASA’s contractor, Aurora Flight Sciences, calls it SIMO (Synthetic Imager Maneuvering Optimization). The reason to do this? Cost and flexibility. Smaller satellites cost much less.
But this concept also sounds somewhat like Planet Labs “flock” of micro-satellites concept. One reason for their micro-satellite “flock” concept is if one satellite dies, no big whoop–they are using fairly cheap materials for the micro-satellites. And the others might take on the dead microsatellite’s chores. It also encourages Planet Labs and their customers to take a few more risks in missions. Perhaps Aurora Flight Sciences is thinking along the same lines?
Only I don’t think Aurora Flight Sciences is doing quite the same thing, though. They are using the MIT Space Systems Laboratory’s SPHERES test satellites to test out their idea. Unfortunately, there’s not much SIMO to show. But, even though it’s not demonstrating SIMO, here’s a consolation prize: you can watch the satellites in action in the video below as they move around in the International Space Station. They remind me somewhat of the sparring droid in “Star Wars.” All the man in the video needs to do is pull out a lightsaber.
If those SPHERES sound familiar, it’s because they are the same experimental satellites being used by teenagers to figure out how to keep a rogue asteroid from destroying the Earth. I wrote that bit up in a Clearancejobs.com article a little bit ago.
Both NASA and the US Department of Defense seem interested in this tech. There’s not much further clarification on this concept except for the Small Business extract. It could be very interesting. But no matter how cheap they say it will be, it will probably be more expensive than Planet Labs’ “flock.”