FemtoSats for Exploring Permanently Shadowed Regions on the Moon

Alvaro Diaz-Flores, Jose Fernandez, Leonard Vance, Himangshu Kalita, Jekan Thangavelautham

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Scopus citations


Rapid advancement in space exploration has been possible thanks to the accelerated miniaturization of electronics components on a spacecraft that reduces satellites' mass, volume, and cost. Yet, access to space remains a distant dream as there is growing complexity in what is required of satellites and increasing space traffic. Interplanetary exploration is even harder and has limited possibilities for low-cost missions. All of these factors make even CubeSats, the entry-level standard, too expensive for most, and therefore, a better way needs to be found. In this paper, we propose using FemtoSats, a low-mass, low-cost, disposable solution that exploits the latest advances in electronics and is relatively easy to integrate. FemtoSats are sub-100-gram spacecraft. The FemtoSat concept is based on launching a swarm where the main tasks are divided between the members of the swarm. This means that if one fails, the swarm can take its place and therefore substitute it without risking the whole mission. In this paper, we explore the utility of FemtoSats to explore and map a Lunar PSR. This concept was recognized as a finalist for the NASA BIG Competition in 2020. This is an example of a high-risk, high-reward mission where losing one FemtoSat does not mean the mission is in danger as it happens with regular satellite missions. The work developed here consists of making a generic conceptual design for FemtoSats and apply it to the exploration of the PSR's. The work results in the development of laboratory prototypes and simulations. We are exploring an innovative approach by implementing LASER power beaming to power and keep-alive the FemtoSats in a cold-dark region such as the PSRs. Within the PSR, we want to prove that batteries can be charged through a laser beam. Currently, the FemtoSat design for the PSR is being tested, and the first results look promising. Advances made on this project will take FemtoSat technology one major step closer towards flight readiness and operations and eventually towards applications on ambitious next-generation science exploration missions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
ISBN (Electronic)9781728174365
StatePublished - Mar 6 2021
Event2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021 - Big Sky, United States
Duration: Mar 6 2021Mar 13 2021

Publication series

NameIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1095-323X


Conference2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBig Sky

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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