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Mission Design laboratory

Our lab is a core workspace for researchers and students who venture to push the frontiers of space mission design be it for their own research purposes, or for the needs of external customers...
The team of the lab
Director of the center
Senior research scientist
Alexander Kharlan
PhD student
Shamil Biktimirov
PhD student
Anton Afanasev
PhD student
Petr Mukhachev
PhD student
Research and industrial projects
Constellation design
PI: Alexander Kharlan (contact)
Students: Roman Korobkov, Angelina Prokopeva

This study group is largely concentrated on advanced space telecommunication technology. It is studied, in what way new space systems can serve the telecom globalization and outreach by supplementing capacity to tradicional ground-based systems, and whether this synergy can establish a path for new kinds of services and applications.

1.     Kharlan, S. Biktimirov, A. Ivanov, On the Prospects of Developing Global Telecommunication Satellite Networks for Shaping New Services in the Next-Generation Telecom Market, Cosmic Research Journal [in press]
2.     Roman Korobkov, Petr Mukhachev, Dmitry Pritykin Traffic Prediction Model for Broadband Microsatellites Constellations. Advances in Astronautical Sciences [in press]
3.     Veliev, N., Ivanov, A., Biktimirov, S., Richard-Noca, M., Piguet, L. Mega-constellation analysis: Reliability strategy and insurance policy (2019) Proceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC, 2019-October
4.     Paek, S.W., Kronig, L.G., Ivanov, A.B., de Weck, O.L. Satellite constellation design algorithm for remote sensing of diurnal cycles phenomena (2018) Advances in Space Research, 62 (9), pp. 2529-2550
5.     Kharlan, N. Veliev, S. Biktimirov, N. Mullin, A. Ivanov, A University-Based Facility for Evaluation and Assessment of Space Projects, 69th International Astronautical Congress, Bremen, Germany, 2018
6.     Kharlan and V. Teplyakov, Software Development for Global Telecom Satellite Network Complex Simulations, 67th International Astronautical Congress, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2016
7.     Kharlan and V. Teplyakov, Complex modelling and testing of global telecommunication hardware, 67th International Astronautical Congress, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2016
8.     Kharlan, V. Ruchenkov, V. Teplyakov, Mobile Satellite Communication System Based on New Digital Phased Array Beamforming Technology, 66th International Astronautical Congress, Jerusalem, Israel, 2015
9.     O. Ivanenko, A. Kharlan, V. Teplyakov, Optical Intersatellite Laser Communication Link for Low-Orbit Communication Satellite Systems, 66th International Astronautical Congress, Jerusalem, Israel, 2015
Formation Flying
PI: Shamil Biktimirov (contact)
Students: Tagir Sadretdinov, Basel Omran


Formation flying has brought flexibility to complex space systems. It allows achieving and even surpassing the functionality of a big single satellite with multiple small satellites simpler in design and cheaper in manufacturing. Multi-satellite formations have numerous applications such as precise measurements of Earth’s gravity and magnetic field and its dynamics, atmospheric sampling, distributed antenna platforms and apertures for imaging etc.

One of our projects is focused on control of formation flying satellites. The control is needed when a certain orbital configuration has to be deployed, maintained or reconfigured and possible collisions have to be prevented. In the study various control approaches are considered such as impulsive control, differential drag control, and continuous control by low thrust propulsion. All algorithms are tested on a benchmark problem, which is to maintain a formation of small satellites with sunlight reflectors that in appropriate lighting conditions can produce graphical images in the sky.

Another venue our group explores is how to employ tethers for formation keeping. Three dimensional satellite formations are often discussed in connection with multipoint measurements needed for atmospheric, geodetic or plasma physics studies. To simplify control strategies and to minimize fuel consumption, tethers can be used to maintain desired relative positions of satellites in the formation flying.

  1. Biktimirov S., Ivanov D., Sadretdinov T., Omran B., and Pritykin D., "A multi-satellite mission to illuminate the Earth: Formation control based on impulsive maneuvers", Advances in the Astronautical Sciences, 2020
  2. D. Ivanov, S. Biktimirov, K. Chernov, A. Kharlan, U. Monakhova, and D. Pritykin, "Writing with sunlight: Cubesat formation control using aerodynamic forces", In Proceedings of the 70th International Astronautical Congress. 2019
  3. Biktimirov, Shamil, et al. "Deployment and maintenance of solar sail-equipped CubeSat formation in LEO." AIAC18: 18th Australian International Aerospace Congress (2019): HUMS-11th Defence Science and Technology (DST) International Conference on Health and Usage Monitoring (HUMS 2019): ISSFD-27th International Symposium on Space Flight Dynamics (ISSFD). Engineers Australia, Royal Aeronautical Society., 2019
  4. D. Yarotsky, V. Sidorenko, D. Pritykin Three-Dimensional Multi-Tethered Satellite Formation with the Elements Moving Along Lissajous Curves, Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy July 2016, Volume 125, Issue 3, pp 309–332
  5. D. Alary, K. Andreev, P. Boyko, E. Ivanova, D. Pritykin, V. Sidorenko, C. Tourneur, D. Yarotsky Dynamics of multi-tethered pyramidal satellite formation, Acta Astronautica 12/2015; 117:222-230
5G/6G backhauling and other services
One of the branches of the constellation studies is to search for new kinds of services and business models emerging from integrating space systems into the global next-gen mobile telecom ecosystem. It is necessary to establish whether there is a solid business case behind the idea of backhauling in 5G/6G networks through space, and whether satellites could physically be able to provide any sorts of services for next-gen mobile broadband. An attempt has been made to identify categories of population and local mobile operators that could benefit from providing an alternative backhaul channel to cut their expenditures on the optical fiber that is still pretty expensive to deploy and maintain, especially in the scale that 5G would imply. Currently, we are in the course of providing advice to several companies in Russia who might in some way profit from closer integration of the satellite constellations into mobile telecom and IoT.
Inter-satellite communication
Another branch here is to understand the core principles behind the functioning of optical inter-satellite telecom networks that might be deployed soon in emerging global telecom constellations. New approaches and principles are studied in order to design a way of keeping the data exchange robust and reliable regardless of the architecture of a particular system. In case of very large constellations, some advanced topology analysis and high-precision orbital modeling done by supplementary ground data analysis segment is always necessary to keep the latency at bay in such systems. This may create opportunity for new services and methodologies that we aim to pinpoint.
Laboratory description
Our lab is a core workspace for researchers and students who venture to push the frontiers of space mission design be it for their own research purposes, or for the needs of external customers. The tools, both developed in-house and purchased elsewhere, along with the available facilities and methodologies (e.g. Skoltech’s Concurrent Engineering Design Lab) provide a splendid opportunity to do thorough studies of mission concepts and answer the cornerstone questions of designing any space mission:
  • how to derive a mission’s architecture from the principal stakeholders’ expectations?
  • how much time and money shall be contributed to get the mission from the concept to the operation, and then to the disposal?
  • how profitable is the mission, or how it performs the scientific goals it is tasked with?
  • who and how will benefit from the mission?
We aim at providing mission design and analysis services and working-out end-to-end solutions in the following areas:
·     LEO, MEO and GEO telecom systems encompassing constellation design, link analysis and customer service modelling;
·     Earth observation missions: single/multiple satellite, RSA, hybrid solutions;
·     Interplanetary missions and deep space scientific probes;
·     Formation control and distributed space systems;
·     Asteroid reconnaissance and mining missions;
·     Space debris mitigation;
·     Generic CubeSat missions;
·     Orbital configuration and launch optimization;
·     Ground segment considerations, services and products
and some more.
Letters in the sky
This animation portrays the controlled dynamics of satellites deployed from a single launch vehicle as they are driven to their respective reference orbits designed to produce a Skoltech logo in the night sky. On the left, the orbit of the formation is shown, whereas on the right the satellites positions are depicted with respect to the orbital frame (whose origin is presented by the red dot). The study has been published in the 5th IAA Conference Proceedings (see project description for reference).
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