Freely-Drifting Small-Satellite Swarms for Sensor Networks in the Arctic
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Satellite communications have been widely used to provide connectivity around the world. However, regions such as the Arctic still have limited coverage, despite the need to monitor this region. Currently, several sensors are deployed in the Arctic, but are limited by poor and costly connectivity. Constellations of small satellites, or CubeSats, have been proposed in order to overcome this lack of connectivity, offering an alternative to typical satellite solutions. However, these constellations face challenges in their deployment and in orbital station keeping. In this paper, we propose a simpler deployment of small satellites, in the form of a drifting swarm, integrated with networking protocols widely used in the Internet of Things (IoT). A realistic setup is considered, evaluating this solution taking into account the position of sensor nodes, ground stations and the dynamics of such a drifting swarm. The topology evolution of the small-satellite swarm is studied and all its link characteristics are emulated using a real network stack and protocols. The obtained results prove the feasibility of the proposed solution and show that a freely drifting satellite swarm, with three small satellites, outperforms more costly solutions. Our results also show that by using standardised networking protocols, a satellite architecture with two ground stations connected over the Internet, can reduce the average end-to-end time of a request from 88 to 38 min. The obtained results motivate the use of freely drifting swarms of small satellites for reaching sensor nodes in remote locations, as well as the use of IoT protocols for improved performance.