Cycler Orbits and Solar System Pony Express

Marc Sanchez Net, Etienne Pellegrini, Wilson Parker, Joshua Vander Hook, Robyn Woollands

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A network of small satellites is designed to ferry data from Mars to Earth. The small satellites, or data mules, are assumed to have laser communicators and maintain cycler orbits. The concept exploits the fact that two nearby optical communicators can achieve extremely high data rates and that cycler orbits carry a satellite between Mars and Earth regularly. The use of a network of satellites on phase-shifted cycler orbits ensures that transfers from Mars to Earth happen with regular cadence. The cycler approximations, combinations, and cross-link analysis steps are outlined and shown to produce favorable results achieving petabit-scale transfers approximately yearly with as few as six satellites without significantly impacting regular Deep Space Network operations, for an average data rate that is much better than direct downlink alone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)861-870
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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