Heterogeneous Spacecraft Networks (HSNs) are network environments in which spacecraft from different missions and institutions can communicate with each other at a low cost and with low impact on overall system resources. The technology of heterogeneous wireless networks has yet to be extended to space networks, where multiple spacecraft operating with various platforms use wireless technology to communicate. This communication need is growing given the increasing number of small satellites or nanosats being launched. Enabling such communication is significant, because connecting spacecraft offers a multiplier effect, connecting limited-capability spacecraft from small countries and institutions with more established networks that offer the possibility of an abundance of useful information for all concerned. In a growing sector where commercial space is ascending, allowing facile data transfer between a wide variety of space hardware and commercial communication platforms will soon be a necessity.

Extending established global wireless network platforms like Wi-Fi and ZigBee to space-based assets will allow different satellite clusters to assist each other. For example, one cluster could provide images of the Earth’s surface when another cluster is without visibility at the needed time and location. More importantly, use of such common platforms will enable collaboration among individuals, institutions, and countries, each with limited assets of its own. By allowing the incorporation of space-based assets into commercial wireless networks, and extending commercial communications into low Earth orbit satellites, access to satellite data will become ubiquitous. Similarly, some global networks will also benefit from the ability of a variety of nodes to communicate with each other. One instance is in the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), where an enormous number of smart objects work together to provide customized solutions.

Potential applications include micro and nanosatellite systems manufacturing, electronic technology, energy management transportation, and intelligence systems.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact the Technology Partnerships Office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link for more information: http://technology.nasa.gov/patent/TB2016/TOP2-253 .

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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