Published in IASTED Technology Conferences Proceedings: Alberta, CAN, July 15, 2010.
Copyright © 2010 ACTA Press.
Pico-satellites have recently gained substantial traction in research and educational communities due to their relatively low cost. The largest factor in keeping the cost down, their small size, also poses their biggest engineering challenge. The tiny, low power radios used to communicate with earth have extremely slow data rates. A typical pico satellite is within communication range of the ground station for approximately 40 minutes per day with a theoretical maximum data rate of 1200 bps. At this speed a high resolution digital photograph can take weeks to download. This paper presents a novel communication protocol that allows a sparse network of pico-satellites to transfer data directly between one another. This capability is used to get the data to a “data mule”. The data mule is a specialized satellite capable of relaying trafﬁc back to earth at higher rates than the current satellites. This work includes an implementation of the communication protocol and a simulator used to evaluate the protocol. Simulation results show that, regardless of varying satellite topologies and trafﬁc workloads, the protocol has a signiﬁcant increase in both the quantity of data transferred to earth and a reduction in the total time required to transfer all the data.