16 March 2001


Microsatellites to Mimic Migrating Birds

By Craig Linder Special to posted: 08:00 am ET 09 July 2000

"WASHINGTON (States News Service) -- Inspired by the flight patterns of migrating birds, Air Force researchers are developing a new generation of tiny satellites that would be able to fly in close formation.

The microsatellites weigh no more than 220 pounds (100 kilograms) and would orbit as close as 11 yards (10 meters) from each other. The spacecraft are dramatically smaller than traditional satellites and open new opportunities for orbital research. Because they weigh so little, the diminutive craft cost much less to launch and consume less fuel once aloft......

"........But the migrating birds' contribution is not limited to the clustering. Among the other innovations they inspired is a novel way to maximize the use of fuel aboard the satellites.

When they migrate, the lead bird faces the most resistance from the wind.

As a lead bird gets tired, it moves back within the flock and another bird assumes the lead position. As a result, no bird becomes more tired than the rest.

So too with the clustered microsatellites. When the cluster's central satellite begins to burn through its fuel, another satellite senses that and takes the lead satellite's place. The result is that the satellites are able to conserve fuel and reduce wear."