Swarm satellites, like in this article, are satellites being released at the same time. Do they enter different orbits? If so, how do they power themselves to get into unique orbits?


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According to eoPortal on ESA's Swarm constellation:

The Swarm mission architecture is driven by the requirement for separation of the various sources contributing to the Earth's magnetic field. Hence, the space segment concept employs a three-minisatellite constellation with the following characteristics:

  • Three spacecraft in two different orbital planes, with two satellites in a plane of 84.7º inclination and with one satellite in a plane of 88º inclination

  • The two satellites in the 87.4º inclination orbit will fly at a mean altitude of 450 km, their east-west separation will be 1-1.5º, and the maximum differential delay in orbit will be about 10 s.

  • The satellite in the higher inclination orbit (88º) will fly at a mean altitude of 530 km.

  • The spacecraft require some degree of active orbit maintenance to control the relative positions in the constellation (this is an element of formation flight to support flight operations).

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Overview of the Swarm orbit configuration (Quote and image source: eoPortal on ESA's Swarm constellation)

The trio of spacecraft will use cold gas (N2) powered Orbit Control Subsystem (OCS) propulsion system, magnetorquers, and attitude sensing is provided by a star tracker assembly (3 star tracker heads), 3 magnetometers, and a CESS (Coarse Earth and Sun Sensor) assembly.


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