Satellite swarms for auroral plasma science
Parham, Jonathan Brent
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With the growing accessibility of space, this thesis work sets out to explore space-based swarms to do multipoint magnetometer measurements of current systems embedded within the Aurora Borealis as an initial foray into concepts for space physics applications using swarms of small spacecraft. As a pathfinder, ANDESITE---a 6U CubeSat with eight deployable picosatellites---was built as part of this research. The mission will fly a local network of magnetometers above the Northern Lights. With the spacecraft due to launch on an upcoming ELaNa mission, here we discuss the details of the science motivation, the mathematical framework for current field reconstruction, the particular hardware implementation selected, the calibration procedures, and the pragmatic management needed to realize the spacecraft. After describing ANDESITE and defining its capability, we also propose a follow-on that uses propulsive nodes in a swarm, allowing measurements that can adaptively change to capture the physical phenomena of interest. To do this a flock of satellites needs to fall into the desired formation and maintain it for the duration of the science mission. A simple optimal controller is developed to model the deployment of the satellites. Using a Monte Carlo approach for the uncertain initial conditions, we bound the fuel cost of the mission and test the feasibility of the concept. To illustrate the system analysis needed to effectively design such swarms, this thesis also develops a framework that characterizes the spatial frequency response of the kilometer-scale filter created by the swarm as it flies through various current density structures in the ionospheric plasma. We then subjugate a nominal ANDESITE formation and the controlled swarm specified to the same analysis framework. The choice of sampling scheme and rigorous basic mathematical analysis are essential in the development of a multipoint-measurement mission. We then turn to a novel capability exploiting current trends in the commercial industry. Magnetometers deployed on the largest constellation to date are leveraged as a space-based magnetometer network. The constellation, operated by Planet Labs Inc., consists of nearly 200 satellites in two polar sun-synchronous orbits, with median spacecraft separations on the order of 375 km, and some occasions of opportunity providing much closer spacing. Each spacecraft contains a magneto-inductive magnetometer, able to sample the ambient magnetic field at 0.1 Hz to 10 Hz with <200 nT sensitivity. A feasibility study is presented wherein seven satellites from the Planet constellation were used to investigate space-time patterns in the current systems overlying an active auroral arc over a 10-minute interval. Throughout the this work advantages, limitations, and caveats in exploiting networks of lower quality magnetometers are discussed, pointing out the path forward to creating a global network that can monitor the space environment.
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