Mission design of a CubeSat constellation for in-situ monitoring applications
Real-time remote monitoring of Africa’s resources, such as water quality, by using terrestrial sensors is impeded by the limited connectivity over the vast rural areas of the continent. Without such monitoring, the effective management of natural resources, and the response to associated disasters such as flooding, is almost impossible. A constellation of nanosatellites could provide near real-time connectivity with ground-based sensors that are distributed across the continent. This study evaluates the high level development of a mission design for a near real-time remote monitoring CubeSat constellation and ground segment for in-situ monitoring in regions of interest on the African continent. This would facilitate management of scarce resources using a low-cost constellation. To achieve this, the design concept and operation of a Walker constellation are examined as a means of providing connectivity to a low bit rate sensor network distributed across geographic areas of interest in South Africa, Algeria, Kenya and Nigeria. The mission requirements include the optimisation of the constellation to maintain short revisit times over South Africa and an investigation of the required communications link to perform the operations effectively. STK software is used in the design and evaluation of the constellations and the communications system. The temporal performance parameters investigated are access and revisit times of the constellations to the geographic areas mentioned. The types of constellation configurations examined, involved starting with a system level analysis of one satellite. This seed satellite has known orbital parameters. Then a gradual expansion of two to twelve satellites in one, two and three orbital planes follows. VHF, UHF and S-band communication links are considered for low data rate in-situ monitoring applications. RF link budgets and data budgets for typical applications are determined. For South Africa, in particular, a total of 12 satellites evenly distributed in a two-plane constellation at an inclination of 39° provide the optimal solution and offer an average daily revisit time of about 5 minutes. This constellation provides average daily access time of more than 16 hours per day. A case study is undertaken that decribes a constellation for the provision of maritime vessel tracking in the Southern African oceans using the Automated Information System (AIS). This service supports the Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) initiative implemented by the South African Government, under its Operation Phakisa.