Session

Technical Session VI: Strength in Numbers

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Abstract

In 2007, The National Research Council released a report known as the Earth Science Decadal Survey. This report lays out an architecture for a holistic Earth Observation Program consisting of 17 missions to be flown in a decade for a total cost of about $7B. Six years after, mission cost estimates have grown by 70% on average, and at the current levels of funding for NASA Earth Science, it would take about 40 years to fly these missions. Furthermore, missions that played central roles in satisfying the needs of the Earth science community have not materialized, due to launch failures, mission cancellations, severe delays or descoping processes. The Earth Science community is in desperate need of novel architectures for Earth observation missions that can satisfy at least part of the scientific requirements at a fraction of the cost of the Decadal Survey missions. Cubesats have the potential to become an important component of such novel architectures by providing low-cost opportunities to fly advanced miniature instruments such as GNSS receivers in radio occultation and reflectometry modes, visible and near-infrared imagers, short-wave infrared spectrometers, millimeter-wave radiometers, microbolometers, and so forth. While Cubesats have hitherto mostly been used for technological demonstration and educational purposes, there has been some emphasis lately in developing Cubesats capable of satisfying demanding scientific requirements. In a recent paper, a survey and assessment of the capabilities of Cubesats as a platform for Earth observation instruments of high scientific value, was presented. This paper takes that work a step further by analyzing, in terms of both performance and cost, several constellations of Cubesats carrying such instruments. The performance of an architecture (i.e., a certain mix of constellations of Cubesats) is computed by assessing its potential to satisfy the Decadal Survey scientific requirements. This is done leveraging prior work on the development of a rule-based expert system for assessing the relative merit of Earth observing system architectures. Different constellation designs carrying different mixes of payloads are analyzed using performance and cost models. Non-dominated architectures in the Pareto sense are identified, and one preferred architecture is analyzed in more detail. A preliminary mission analysis is conducted for this preferred architecture, and its cost-effectiveness is compared to that of the original Decadal Survey architecture. The paper shows how, while Cubesats still suffer from serious limitations in terms of their performance and capabilities for Earth science, they are a very cost-effective way of satisfying a relatively large portion of the Decadal Survey requirements.

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Aug 13th, 5:15 PM

Preliminary Assessment of Performance and Cost of a Cubesat Component of the Earth Science Decadal Survey

In 2007, The National Research Council released a report known as the Earth Science Decadal Survey. This report lays out an architecture for a holistic Earth Observation Program consisting of 17 missions to be flown in a decade for a total cost of about $7B. Six years after, mission cost estimates have grown by 70% on average, and at the current levels of funding for NASA Earth Science, it would take about 40 years to fly these missions. Furthermore, missions that played central roles in satisfying the needs of the Earth science community have not materialized, due to launch failures, mission cancellations, severe delays or descoping processes. The Earth Science community is in desperate need of novel architectures for Earth observation missions that can satisfy at least part of the scientific requirements at a fraction of the cost of the Decadal Survey missions. Cubesats have the potential to become an important component of such novel architectures by providing low-cost opportunities to fly advanced miniature instruments such as GNSS receivers in radio occultation and reflectometry modes, visible and near-infrared imagers, short-wave infrared spectrometers, millimeter-wave radiometers, microbolometers, and so forth. While Cubesats have hitherto mostly been used for technological demonstration and educational purposes, there has been some emphasis lately in developing Cubesats capable of satisfying demanding scientific requirements. In a recent paper, a survey and assessment of the capabilities of Cubesats as a platform for Earth observation instruments of high scientific value, was presented. This paper takes that work a step further by analyzing, in terms of both performance and cost, several constellations of Cubesats carrying such instruments. The performance of an architecture (i.e., a certain mix of constellations of Cubesats) is computed by assessing its potential to satisfy the Decadal Survey scientific requirements. This is done leveraging prior work on the development of a rule-based expert system for assessing the relative merit of Earth observing system architectures. Different constellation designs carrying different mixes of payloads are analyzed using performance and cost models. Non-dominated architectures in the Pareto sense are identified, and one preferred architecture is analyzed in more detail. A preliminary mission analysis is conducted for this preferred architecture, and its cost-effectiveness is compared to that of the original Decadal Survey architecture. The paper shows how, while Cubesats still suffer from serious limitations in terms of their performance and capabilities for Earth science, they are a very cost-effective way of satisfying a relatively large portion of the Decadal Survey requirements.