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Communication rates with probes in the outer solar systems are extremely low (Voyager is ~160 bps), because of the inverse square law and the extreme distances involved. Achieving these rates consumes much of the probes' power.

Although rarely discussed, intermediate relay satellites (repeaters) can substantially reduce this problem by cutting the distance for each leg of the transmission. Creating such a network for a single mission would not likely be worthwhile, especially since repeaters at different distances from the sun would have orbits that do not sync up, requiring a large network. However, if the repeaters were designed to last for many decades, the network could be used by many probes, greatly reducing their power requirements for communications.

Has this been seriously studied? How frequent would interplanetary missions need to be in order for this to be worthwhile?

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  • $\begingroup$ This question is not a duplicate of "Is a space probe communication relay possible?". "Is X possible?" is not the same as "Would X be worthwhile?". Indeed, this question takes the possibility and functionality of relays as a given. (Not to mention that the answer to that claimed duplicate misses the point of the question.) This does drive home the point that if you don't link defensively to every questions that's partially related, the mods will assume yours is a dupe. Not a great user experience. $\endgroup$ Jun 6 '20 at 11:57
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The problem with this is that satellites don't stay where you put them. They orbit. Thus for this to work long term, you would need, say a dozen satellites per orbit to ensure you had one in the right direction. This would be really expensive.

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  • $\begingroup$ The orig of the question says, the problem is that the probes have much worse antennas than we can have on the Earth. Btw, I still believe it would be possible, and the real problem is that the time scale of such probes is in decades. The probes of such a relay network should be at least multiple of the induvidual probes, making it unsatisfiable for us. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Jun 6 '20 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ I specifically mentioned the issue with orbits in my question ("especially since repeaters at different distances from the sun would have orbits that do not sync up, requiring a large network.") $\endgroup$ Jun 6 '20 at 11:52

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