The optical communications terminal and networking concept developed under this effort will provide new capabilities to small spacecraft operating in constellations and swarms, allowing them to transfer large amounts of data around the network while simultaneously measuring the positions of the spacecraft relative to one another. This development will support NASA constellation and swarm missions, providing a high data rate network and precision metrology system. Swarms of spacecraft, relying on the close coordination of action to perform a mission in unison that cannot be performed by a single spacecraft, can use this technology to explore Earth-Sun interaction by measuring spatial variations in electromagnetic fields and create large sparse aperture imaging systems with unprecedented resolution, among other applications. These swarm missions can be performed around other celestial bodies, comets, near-Earth objects just as well as they can around the Earth.
In many ways, commercial ventures have led the way in the development of capable CubeSat platforms and the exploitation of their capabilities to meet customer needs. The optical terminal and related network will enhance the capabilities of existing imaging and asset tracking CubeSat constellations by providing a means to move large amounts of data through the constellation quickly, reducing data transfer latency and making more efficient use of ground stations. Proposed constellations that intend to provide data services to customers throughout the world even in remote locations will require crosslinks to provide immediate connections between users and distributed ground stations. Optical crosslinks will be necessary for these users to move the large amounts of data they produce. Swarms of spacecraft, relying on the close coordination of action to perform a mission in unison that cannot be performed by a single spacecraft, can use this technology to create large sparse aperture imaging systems with unprecedented resolution, among other applications. Similar missions are being explored by the Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office.