Overview

Developed for the European Space Agency, PICosatellite for Atmospheric and Space Science Observations (PICASSO) CubeSat is designed to investigate the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere and is another satellite that brought Bright Ascension’s innovative software in space.

 

PICASSO’s payload, composed of two scientific instruments, contributes to the determination of the ozone distribution in the stratosphere, the temperature profile up to the mesosphere and the electronic plasma characterisation in the ionosphere.

Challeges

Mixed-Vendor Hardware and Complexity

PICASSO satellite has a mixed-vendor hardware platform as the CubeSat uses a miniaturised multispectral imager using the Sun as the light source, and a multi-needle ‘Langmuir probe’ in order to sample the electron density of the space.

The platform also contains distributed onboard architecture as there are two onboard computers (OBC) used on the platform, which includes a separate payload computer. This was a unique challenge for the integration of flight software.

Time Constraints

Along with technological constraints and current limitations of CubeSat technology, PICASSO also had time constraints with development effort spreading over approximately one year.

Solutions

Mixed-vendor hardware

The FSDK is an open system, meaning that it can be easily extended to work with new systems, new hardware, new and existing software components. This means any new hardware can be used without building a whole new system.FSDK effectively defined components interactions in terms of services thus rendering them location independent. The FSDK abstraction allows easy distribution of flight software across multiple computing platforms without adding operational complexity.

Time constraints

FSDK offers a rapid development process and the flexibility to swap components in and out without redesigning the entire package, which provides an ideal solution for the dynamic nature of projects like PICASSO. Based on the same GenerationOne technology, the flight software also seamlessly integrated with our MCS software to allow operators to easily communicate with the spacecraft from the control centre.It also included automation components to permit the automation of on-board activities such as responding to events and scheduling on-board activities based on relative time, absolute time or spacecraft orbit.

Outcome

PICASSO was successfully launched on the inaugural flight of the ESA-developed ‘Small Spacecraft Mission System’ dispenser – devoted to CubeSats and other small satellites – on a Vega launcher in 2020.

It is currently in orbit, demonstrating that small satellite technology can be successfully used as a scientific tool for Earth observation and research.