2018.B.4.3. Corona II: Returning large amounts of data to Earth


Frank Crary (1)

  1. University of Colorado, LASP, United States of America




Communications, large data sets


Returning large amounts of data is a challenge for planetary CubeSats. For example, a MarCO-like communications system at the distance of Ceres would require approximately one hour to transmit a single, monochrome, one-megapixel image. Even with improved capabilities on CubeSats downlink rates are likely to remain much lower than those of larger missions. The availability of large antennas on Earth may become a limiting factor for downlinks as these low data rates.

An alternative may be the use of mass data storage and patients. During the actual data collection phase, a spacecraft could limit its telemetry to the minimum necessary for operations and verification of instrument performance. A vastly larger amount of data could be recorded. Following such a science phase, if the spacecraft’s trajectory takes it back to the vicinity of the Earth (e.g. 0.5 AU or closer), the data could be efficiently downlinked at a substantially higher rate and without requiring excessive resources from the spacecraft or ground-based antennas.

This concept of a delayed data return could be taken farther. Noting the small size and mass of commercial flash memory, and following the historical precedent of the Corona satellites, it could be more efficient to literally return the data to Earth.


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