Carnegie Mellon Engineering Reimagines Nanosatellite Capabilities with Orbital Edge Computing

An NSF-funded initiative to collect in-orbit data insights, laying the foundation for innovative applications

PITTSBURGH, July 06, 2022–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering embark on a mission to reimagine the capabilities of nanosatellites in low Earth orbit. Supported by a $7 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Frontiers Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) program, the CMU initiative will transform constellations of nanosatellites into sophisticated distributed computing platforms, laying the foundation for a wide range of innovative applications in the public sector. security, defense and intelligence, carbon mapping, traffic management and precision agriculture, among others.

Today’s nanosatellites collect huge amounts of raw data, so much so that it’s impossible to link them all to Earth. The long loop needed to transmit only part of the data to the ground and then make sense of it also creates many latency issues.

With the team’s new approach, called orbital edge computing, CMU researchers will work to develop computationally capable nanosatellite constellations equipped with machine learning techniques that extract valuable insights from the data while remaining in orbit. This will not only reduce the amount of information sent back to Earth, but will lay the foundation for a wide range of possible reactive applications that operate entirely from space.

The new technology will help catch early signs of trouble before they happen, according to lead researcher Brandon Lucia, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. For example, this could help monitor suspicious activity at large-scale events like the upcoming 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles or identify early signs of wildfires, allowing response teams to make mitigation efforts before the forests go up in flames.

The project includes world-renowned experts in critical areas such as federated learning, wireless communications, security and networking, and nanosatellite design, including Carnegie Mellon professors Gauri Joshi, Swarun Kumar, Zac Manchester and Vyas Sekar.

The grant will fund a large team of graduate students who will work to define the field, as well as provide the resources needed to build and launch satellites into orbit as part of a test deployment to showcase the capabilities of the new technology. The project aims to overcome many of the challenges of tightly coupled computing, networking, and sensing from space with a resilient and responsive architecture.

About the Faculty of Engineering:
The College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University is a premier engineering school known for its advanced collaborative culture in research and education. The College is well known for working on issues of both scientific and practical importance. Our maker culture is embedded in everything we do, leading to new approaches and transformative results. Our renowned faculty focuses on the management and engineering of innovation to produce transformative results that will boost the intellectual and economic vitality of our community, our nation, and the world.

About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon,, is an internationally renowned private research university with recognized programs spanning science, engineering, technology, business, public policy, humanities, and the arts. Our diverse community of scholars, researchers, creators and innovators is committed to making real impacts that benefit people around the world. With a bold, interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial approach, we do the work that matters.

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