$2.16 Million for Technion Satellite Research

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded Prof. Pini Gurfil of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology $2.16 million to conduct research on a method for launching satellites in separate components. Once in orbit, these unattached components would cluster closely together and communicate wirelessly to form a complete satellite.


The “ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grant” is considered Europe’s most prestigious research award. Its aim is to encourage pioneering frontier research in any field of science, engineering and scholarship.


Prof. Pini Gurfil
Professor Pini Gurfil


Prof. Gurfil’s proposal is part of a discipline of space engineering called “disaggregated spacecraft achitectures” (DSA), in which separate components communicate with each other wirelessly to form a single virtual platform. The components can distribute resources among themselves, and only have to be in relative proximity to each other. Each has its own designated function or functions: navigation, altitude control, power generation, payload operation, etc.


According to Prof. Gurfil, this type of satellite would make it much easier to overcome “…unexpected situations (such as damage from space debris) that could cause a traditional satellite to discontinue its original task and making functional and financial damages unavoidable.  For example, if the payload is damaged, the entire system becomes unusable, and in order to complete the task, the entire instrument must be replaced. This procedure is very expensive and time-consuming. It is much easier to change a payload module than launch a new satellite.”


DSA is expected to be more efficient in terms of “responsiveness,” or the ability to adapt to unexpected scenarios resulting from several sources of uncertainty at different levels of task design and execution.


The ultimate goal of Prof. Gurfil’s proposed research is to develop innovative technology that will enable actual flight in a DSA formation.  Specific objectives include the development of algorithms for semi-autonomous maintenance of the cluster and its network (including ways to add or remove new modules) and finding methods to reconfigure clusters.  Researchers will also work to establish a design for cluster distribution and gathering, with the purpose of avoiding collision with space debris; and to develop logic and ways to share resources within the network, with the ability to react in real-time.


The research will create the necessary infrastructure for a live space demonstration sometime in 2016. 


The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university. Home to the country’s first winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society (ATS) is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with offices around the country.


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