Mission operations software serves as the nerve centre for satellite operations, playing a critical role in orchestrating, monitoring, and managing every aspect of a satellite mission. With many options available on the market from open-source satellite operations software to commercial modular and component-based or SaaS alternatives, selecting your ideal mission control software can become a challenging task in itself.  

We have put together a short and comprehensive guide to help you navigate the complex landscape of options available on the market to ensure you get the best-in-class mission control software to suit your unique mission needs. 

1. Define Operational Needs: 

Begin by defining your unique operational requirements. Consider factors such as fleet size, data processing demands, mission goals, ground station compatibility, and scalability for future expansions. This precision helps pinpoint software solutions that align precisely with your needs. 

We recommend considering concept of operations or CONOPS from the earliest stages of mission development and making it the main driver for your system design in terms of both software and hardware. Focus on what you want to achieve and how you want to do it – how you are going to fly and operate your spacecraft. To avoid serious issues later on in your mission, try to consider all aspects of operations, such as available data volumes, bandwidth, etc.  

2. Evaluate Key Functionalities: 

Assess software capabilities in line with your operational needs: 

3. Consider Scalability and Integration:  

Your mission control software should seamlessly integrate into existing space infrastructure and accommodate future satellite deployments. Ideally, you want a solution that allows for nearly automatic ground system configuration based on a machine comprehensible communication with the flight side of your space system.  

Ensure that your mission control software harmonises effortlessly (and preferably automatically) with diverse hardware components, ground stations, and other software systems that your mission relies on. 

Consider where this integration is coming from and how it can be maintained. Will you be reliant on the provider for the maintenance of any mission-specific adaptation, or can you own and maintain those adaptations yourself? For this adaptation, will the mission control software provider supply access to existing software modules, with heritage, which can provide a starting point for this adaptation? This is an area where you should look for the results of prior supplier experience and how that is reflected in the software offering. 

4. Choose User-Centric Interface: 

Intuitiveness is key to enable robust monitoring and decision-making. Opt for software with an intuitive interface, simplifying navigation and customisable dashboards for quick access to crucial data.  

5. Explore Support Options and Reliability: 

Reliability is critical in satellite operations. Choose software renowned for its uptime, reliability, and provider responsiveness in addressing technical intricacies. Examine support packages the provider offers and ensure they keep you covered.  

Much of the challenge comes from the fact that there are no guidelines, manuals or precise rules on how to design cutting-edge mission software. It requires years of experience and expertise, which you may not yet have. It makes sense to consider software that – alongside support – comes with advice or even mentoring services on the best practices and design solutions. 

6. Evaluate Cost Efficiency: 

Understand the pricing structure encompassing licensing fees, maintenance costs, and potential add-ons. Balance these against the software’s features, aligning with your budget without compromising efficiency. 

Additionally, it is important to think beyond the purchase point and take into account all the expenses, risks and benefits through to the final full-scale constellation – such as reliability, software infrastructure, integration capabilities, simpler and quicker onboarding process and a straightforward approach to scaling up as you move forward.  

Considerable cost can also be saved by opting for software that comes as part of larger offering and integrates seamlessly and nearly automatically with your onboard solution and other software systems, such as data delivery, processing and analytics.   

7. Review Industry Reputation: 

Explore the provider’s reputation and flight heritage within the satellite industry. Are you talking to a start-up that offers promising new technology but has not had a chance to test in on real missions? Or is it a well-established company with an impressive number of satellites that are operated through its software solutions? What has the provider seen in terms of diversity: always the same satellite and ground segment technologies or a wide range? Testimonials and case studies about previous missions offer valuable insights into user experiences, their challenges and solutions.  

8. Demo and Trial Your Chosen Mission Control Software: 

Prioritise hands-on experience. Take advantage of free trials and demos to assess functionality, compatibility, user-friendliness and support before committing.  

It also makes sense to contact your potential provider directly to schedule a call and assess your mission needs – with years of experience and expertise, they will be able to identify what’s best for your mission and if the solution on offer is the right fit.   

9. Choose Future-Ready Solutions: 

The satellite industry is booming like never before and there is no indication that this rapid and sustained growth will halt in the coming years. Inquire about the software’s development roadmap. Sustainable product development signifies a commitment to staying at the forefront of technological advancements.  

Consider where your own mission is heading – are you planning to grow and scale up? Is it likely to evolve into a larger constellation? Have you considered new emerging technology and satellite replenishment as your spacecraft reach the end of lifespan? There are a lot of factors that determine the success of a mission and ensuring that you have the right solutions at the right time and the right place can avert potential failures and open up new opportunities and revenue streams. 

10. Consider the Bigger Picture:  

Although operations, and mission control software, are at the core of your mission, this is still one part of a larger picture. To allow your mission to deliver to its full potential, the complete system must work together efficiently and effectively. This is not just about flight-ground integration, but also integration of operations with midstream delivery of the data or service to downstream applications and services for end users. However good an operations software solution is on its own, the real value is only available if the mission control software is able to provide a robust and open architecture which facilitates end-to-end system integration. 

In conclusion, the selection of mission control software demands meticulous evaluation, aligning precise operational needs with software capabilities. By following these steps, you’ll confidently find the right satellite operations software, ensuring that your mission operations are smooth and reliable, reaching new levels of efficiency. 

In a landscape where there is a renewed interest in integrated mission software, it’s worth exploring the concept of HELIX.

What is Helix?

HELIX is a suite of nine products offered by Bright Ascension that cater for those who need an integrated end-to-end space software solution from flight software development, test and operations and right through to using space-based data and services to provide insights and analytics to end users.

All HELIX products are built around an innovative technology that is based on software components fused together with a model-driven approach where information about these components and their functionality is shared across different software systems both on spacecraft and on the ground. These components comprise the basis of the software product, and they are a complete unit with a unified purpose.

HELIX uses both pre-validated library components, which permit users to quickly cover the core functionality of the system and custom-made component, that focus on the development of bespoke functionality, unique to their specific mission.

What does HELIX do?

Space software is essentially the “glue” that underpins everything and holds the entire system together – both on spacecraft and on the ground. Any space company needs to ensure that the software is quick to develop, easy to operate and maintain, robust and stable and helps to maximise the use of available resources.

But the key and currently unaddressed challenge is to keep up with inevitably changing requirements – such as new hardware, new software updates or new technology – and to make sure that all parts of the complex flight-ground software system work seamlessly. This challenge doesn’t just end during development; it extends as systems move on, become operational, and enter the commercial market. 

Many of the challenges in the downstream or service delivery sector stemmed from inefficient integration, communication, and a lack of understanding of the space-based aspect of the system, also known as the upstream sector.

It’s not enough to just make the ground side and flight side “talk” to each other. Technical and commercial drivers in the industry push towards a high level of heterogeneity. The real challenge lies in consistently providing services and maintaining this complex, often disjointed system over time as it naturally evolves and undergoes changes.

The HELIX suite of products is designed to bridge the upstream and downstream sectors through what is called the midstream. It covers and tightly connects three critical sectors in the space industry.

In the upstream sector, it makes sure space software is quick to develop, easy to integrate into the existing system and simple to operate with lower risk and at lower cost.

In the midstream sector, it helps to optimise and improve the delivery and management of space-based services through seamless integration with the space-based side.

And finally, in the downstream sector, it provides an easy-to-use access to space data that helps to make the most of space services for delivering insights and applications to end-users.

So, it’s essentially an all-encompassing solution that spans the entire spectrum of space operations.

Why is HELIX a great addition when planning a mission?

Satellite missions depend on software packages which can be costly and overly complex for no particular reason. HELIX is a great straightforward solution for those planning a mission or using space-based data for service delivery for a number of reasons:  

  1. HELIX saves significant cost across development/operations and visibly reduces total cost of ownership by at least a factor of 2.
  2. Given the main elements of the HELIX technology are reusable components optimised for endless combinations of software units, it offers a high level of innovation and creativity. These components function as building blocks which accelerate the production of more reliable and cost-effective software packages.
  3. On top of this, the component-based nature of HELIX means that existing software can be reused in future missions, saving time on future work and avoiding the need to start from scratch. Additionally, this framework is intended to be incredibly versatile and adaptable, giving users the freedom to combine many pre-made and custom software components quickly and reliably.
  4. There are always unforeseen circumstances when it comes to mission planning, and HELIX is perfect for responding to potential changes in the development process because its component-based structure offers flexibility and adaptability.  
  5. HELIX is an extremely scalable suite of products as relevant changes can be made in response to new requirements, functionality or hardware. This allows those planning a mission to support evolving space systems, as it is easy to extend or build new Helix applications. It is also exceptionally flexible to support extensive configuration or integration with third-party software.
  6. Component-based structure allows to develop the flight package rapidly, which means users can take advantage of early access to software for testing and integration or operations development.
  7. There is also less risk associated with this product because the components are authenticated with extensive flight-heritage and over 40 satellites in orbit.

HELIX manages to bridge the gap between current fragmented and flawed space software systems by creating the ultimate end-to-end single space system.

What’s included in the Helix suite?

There is a whole host of development kits, downstream platforms, and ready-made products that are offered to users under the umbrella of HELIX .

Development kits include a Flightkit, Groundkit, Appkit and Simkit, whereas ready-made products include Ops, Infinity, Test, Edge and Analytics. Downstream platforms include Infinity.

Flightkit

The Flightkit consists of components and services that can be used repeatedly for assembling complete flight software systems.

Groundkit

Groundkit is a library of reusable components and services for assembling complete ground software systems.

Appkit

Appkit allows customers to develop mission add-ons as platform-agnostic apps, and these can be executed on the satellite, or by Ops or Infinity on the ground.

Simkit

SimKit consists of reusable components and services for putting together complete operational and functional simulator systems.

Ops

In terms of ready products, Ops is a catalogue of applications for straightforward mission operations. They are scalable, from single satellites to multiple constellations are created to reduce the cost of operations.

Test

Test is an all-encompassing, mission-focused solution that is operationally representative. It recognises and points out actionable intelligence, guarantees safety of system and operational procedures and enhances operational quality.

Edge

Edge is a platform-specific, pre-built flight software application which offers a basic payload interface and the inherent capabilities to run apps.

Analytics

Analytics is an integrated dashboard which can be used to outline status and upcoming passes, as well as facilitating aggregation, filtering, and assessment of live and historical data relating to Ops, Test and Infinity.

Infinity

As a downstream platform, infinity is a white-label software solution that can be configured to allow clients to present their users with an easy-to-use web-based solution. It can be used to gain entry to their space-related services regardless of application domain.

What are the benefits of having an integrated mission software?

Integrated mission software is advantageous as it helps to reduce the likelihood of mistakes during a mission, it requires a lot less engineering effort to develop, test, operate and deliver on mission goals, which untimately makes it significantly more efficient and cost-effective.

Ready to experience the benefits of Helix?

Currently, there is high demand to produce space software quickly and at low cost.

With ready-to-use components and functions, Helix from Bright Ascension is the only choice when it comes to planning a mission.

To discover how our modular space software technology and integrated solutions can help you simplify and streamline your space mission development and operation, contact us today.

The choice of what is best for your mission is entirely yours, but it’s important to make informed decisions. Consider why commercially licensed software might be a better option for you and how it can help your mission succeed.

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1. LEARNING CURVE

Short start-up time

Getting software engineers up to speed with new tools takes time and a steep learning curve can threaten your mission, unnecessarily increase development/testing time and significantly complicate things like integration, configuration and management of the system. Commercial software, like our Flight Software Development Kit, aims for simplicity in use, straightforward workflows and a robust onboarding process with a variety of manuals, tutorials, guides and other support material.

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Product

Flight Software Development Kit

Unique development environment for mission-specific flight software


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FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Browse through our FAQs to get the answers to any questions you might have.

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2. UNIQUE MISSIONS

Focus on what really matters to you

Commercial software places your needs at the heart of the development process. Our FSDK comes with hundreds of software components available out of the box, so you can focus on mission-specific functionality. This means that you can quickly cover all the basic and standard functionality for your mission (e.g. data acquisition, monitoring, logging, FDIR, TM/TC, etc.) and concentrate your efforts on what makes it unique such as payload interfacing, telemetry handling, communication protocols and your concept of operations.

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Blog

What does “component-based” software really mean?

Find out what FSDK components are, what benefits the component approach brings and what type of components the FSDK provides.

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3. RAPID DEVELOPMENT

Short time to market

In the crowded New Space sector, there aren’t many who can afford delays or lengthy development. The time to market becomes crucial and the current expectation can only be a few months! Rapid development is exactly what makes our FSDK different: the platform is designed to quickly create limitless combinations of software components, similar to constructing with building blocks. This allows you to develop your spacecraft flight software significantly faster and noticeably reduce your time to market.

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Blog

How to Reduce Satellite Development Time with Off-The-Shelf Flight Software

One key challenge of most CubeSat mission is the project schedule, which is often tight, meaning that flight software needs to be available early in the space mission development and must be made available quickly. Learn how off-the-shelf flight software can help you speed up development and testing.

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4. SIMPLE RE-USE

Save time on future work

Unless you are only planning to build a single spacecraft in your lifetime, it is never too early to think about future work. Are you building a constellation? Or perhaps you expect new missions in the future? Or maybe you build missions at scale? FSDK components written for one spacecraft can be easily reused on another, even if the satellite hardware is different – even if the onboard computer has changed! Components can often be combined in new ways to achieve new functionality, avoiding the need to start again from the ground up and saving your invaluable time and cost on future work.

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Blog

Developing Flight Software for Large Satellite Systems

As the New Space market continues to grow, more and more satellite applications require a large number of spacecraft. Find out how to efficiently design flight software to support high-volume development.

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5. SIMPLE HARDWARE INTEGRATION

Extensive lists of supported subsystems

Commercial software is usually designed to work with and support a large range of hardware to make your life easier and give your extra benefits. Just look at our impressive list of supported subsystems, onboard computers, operating systems and communication protocols. And what’s more – we are always on the lookout for more hardware to support, particularly if it’s in high demand. So never hesitate to get in touch, if your choice of hardware is not listed.

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Supported hardware

Systems and Platforms

Our range of Onboard computer (OBC) platforms, communications protocols and subsystems supported by the FSDK is extensive, and growing all the time.

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6. SINGLE SPACE SYSTEM

Integration with the ground side

One of the trickiest parts of building a space software system is making sure your onboard software can successfully “talk” to the ground side and the rest of the software infrastructure. You may have the most sophisticated flight package, but it’s no use if it cannot be efficiently controlled or deliver the service. Integration is what our FSDK particularly excels at. It automatically captures all the information about the flight side and shares it across the entire ground-space system with almost zero configuration on your part, so you can focus purely on operating the mission. That’s integration taken to another level!

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Integrated system

Blog

Benefits of Integrated Space-Ground Software Systems

The ground and space segments of a satellite project are often developed independently of each other and at different life cycles of the mission. Find out about an alternative model-based approach which support for quick and easy integration of flight and ground segments.


Satellite Imagery

Blog

How to Optimise Payload Integration

Payloads tend to be developed by specialists in their own fields, but integrating these payloads into a spacecraft platform remains the task of a satellite developer.

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7. SUPPORT AND ADVICE

Best practices and design

The more complex you expect your space system to become, the more difficult it is to design good, stable and scalable software architecture. Much of the challenge comes from the fact that there are no guidelines, manuals or precise rules. It requires years of experience and expertise, which you may not have. Our software comes with support and advice services on the best practices and design solutions. With over 11 years of experience and 40+ spacecraft flying our software in orbit, we’ve got exactly what it takes to develop the state-of-the-art software your mission needs.

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Services

We are here to help

To help you navigate through the intricate process of space software development, we complement our products with mentoring and competence building services for your team, as well as bespoke component development.


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Case studies

It’s the results that count

Browse our case studies to learn how we help our clients reach for the stars.

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8. SCALABILITY

From a single CubeSat into a constellation

Scaling up and growing your system from a single spacecraft into a constellation is the hottest topic of the New Space sector at the moment – how can you do that quickly, reliably and efficiently? Our FSDK allows you to re-use your existing software, enhance it with new functionality or hardware by swapping components in and out, and easily integrate it into the existing system with almost zero manual configuration. Put simply, re-use what you’ve got, update and plug in!

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How to future proof your space mission

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How to Future-Proof Your Space Software System

Future-proofing you space software system and making sure it lasts is by no means easy, but launch after launch we are proving that the right products, technology and expertise are exactly what’s needed for success.


Integrated Development Kits Software

Blog

The Future of Satellite Software Technologies

The satellite industry is booming like never before and there is no indication that this rapid and sustained growth may halt in the coming years. In this blog post we take a look at the future of satellite software technologies, explore where the industry is heading and how we – as a space software provider – plan to address these challenges.

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9. VENDOR LOCK-IN

Multiple hardware vendors

As you space system grows and develops, you may find beneficial to keep your architecture open to new hardware in order to avoid vendor lock-in. The FSDK allows individual modules to be quickly and easily substituted as needed – whether you are adding new capability, a new satellite in your space system or simply trying to save cost by opting for a more cost-effective vendor. More importantly, our seamless integration between the flight and the ground sides means you don’t need to worry about how to manage a space system with a large variety of different subsystems.

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Blog

Say No to Vendor Lock-In: Benefits of an Open and Modular Software System

As a service provider, you may want to take advantage of price competition between hardware manufacturers and make your constellations heterogeneous, comprising satellites from different manufacturers with different capabilities. Learn more about avoiding vendor lock-in.


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Product

Mission Control Software

Easy-to-use monitoring and control of onboard changes during development and flight

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10. TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP

The bottom line: save cost

It is easy to make a decision based on purchase cost only. But it is crucial to think beyond the purchase point and take into account all the expenses, risks and benefits through to the final qualified ready-for-flight version or even a full scale constellation. The FSDK can save considerable cost through faster and more efficient development process, lower risk, simpler and quicker onboarding process and a straightforward approach to scaling up as you move forward.

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Launched missions

Our spacecraft in orbit

Browse the full list of the missions powered by our flight and ground software. Currently sitting at 40+, the list is growing all the time.


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Demo

See our software in action

Get in touch to arrange a one-to-one demo of our products, tailored to your mission needs and requirements.

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Would you like to find out more?

Contact us to today to arrange a one-to-one demo and see our software in action.

Product

Flight Software Development Kit

Unique development environment for mission-specific flight software

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Product

Mission Control Software

Easy-to-use monitoring and control of onboard changes during development and flight

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In the rapidly changing and growing commercial New Space market, there is a strong need to produce space software quickly and at low cost. The key to achieving this is through software reuse: when the software created for one mission can be quickly and easily adapted for another, and when common software functionality is provided in a reusable library.

Our space software products are based on our innovative and unique modular technology, which combines three equally important aspects, one of which is the “component-based approach”.

What do we call “components”?

 

Components are the central elements of our software products, they are entirely self-contained and have a coherent set of functionality. While every mission is different, software systems on many missions perform a number of similar tasks such as data acquisition, monitoring, logging, FDIR, TM/TC, scheduled and automated actions. These common functionalities are provided as library components which allows users to quickly cover basic functionality of the system and focus on the development of bespoke components, unique to their particular mission.

This means that our products help tailor the software to each particular mission by allowing the developer to choose which components to use, how many, the way they connect, as well as develop custom components for the mission.

All components are made portable to be useable across a wide range of platforms and operating systems.

Why is this approach better?

 

The component-based structure promotes the idea of reuse: the platform is designed to create limitless combinations of both ready-made and bespoke software components, similar to constructing with building blocks. This brings a number of significant benefits:

  • Shorter time to market through faster development
  • Early access to software for testing and integration/operations development
  • Simple re-use of existing software in future missions
  • Reduced risk as all library components are pre-validated with extensive flight-heritage
  • Having components as small units of reuse increases flexibility and adaptability to any changes in the development process
  • Built-in scalability as components can simply be swapped in and out as the system grows and requirements/functionality/hardware changes
  • Simple and easy to use – assemble your flight packing like building blocks

 

What functionality do components cover?

 

Our flight software library that comes with the product includes a wide range of components covering all mission needs:

 

  • Subsystem components: for many commercial off-the-shelf products such as electronic power systems, attitude control systems and radios
  • Data handling components: gathering, pooling, logging and reporting telemetry parameters from the complete system
  • Monitoring components: checks on parameters to validate correct system operations
  • Communications components: monitoring, control and reporting to and from ground or other systems using a variety of standard protocols
  • Automation components: automation of onboard activities such as responding to events and scheduling onboard operations based on relative time, absolute time or spacecraft orbit
  • Mission components: manage the spacecraft mode and separation sequence

 

We’ve been evolving our innovative technology for the past 12 years through extensive development work on more than 50 spacecraft, powered by our flight and ground software. This ongoing development forms the foundation for our ground-breaking HELIX suite of products,  designed to joined up various software systems within a mission infrastructure. HELIX connects the entire mission lifecycle, from upstream mission development to downstream insights and applications, delivered through space-based services.

Contact us today to to see our software in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our products, tailored to your mission needs and requirements.

 

 

Last week, in our previous blog post we discussed different types of risks that lurk around space software development and the importance of being able to tackle them. If not addressed, the consequences can be dire leading to re-development, significant delays and even mission failures.

This week we will look at what can be done in practical terms in order to future-proof your space software system.

 

Integration, integration, integration

 

We cannot stress enough the importance of integration and seamless flow of data across all of the subsystems.

As a minimum, a typical mission needs onboard or flight software, test and simulation software, operations software and service delivery software. All of these systems need to work well together and ensure any change is captured and reflected across the entire infrastructure. Fragmentation within this end-to-end system and any part of it being disjointed or managed differently is very likely to lead to inefficiency and increased risk.

There’s also another side to this problem if we look at it in time over the lifespan of the space system. Satellites within a constellation require constant replenishment, which means any new or additional spacecraft is likely to be slightly different – you may want to upgrade your onboard technology, add new functionality or simply source a cheaper hardware vendor. As a result, software development becomes an ongoing activity that is constantly taking place throughout the lifespan of the system and this constant change needs to be reflected in the architecture.

One way to solve the integration challenge is through a model-based approach that stretches across the entire space system and allows developers to optimise their performance by making sure all the information about the system is automatically captured in a model and reflected across the whole infrastructure.

In simple terms, this means that should you make a software update or replenish your constellation with a new spacecraft using different hardware – this change will be automatically noted and shared across the entire ground-space system with minimal configuration on your part.

You can learn more about model-based end-to-end software systems in our previous blog post The Future of Space Software Technologies.

 

Scalability and flexibility

 

All large-scale space systems start small with a demonstration mission to test the viability of the service with more and more spacecraft added gradually as the constellation grows to reach its intended capacity. Getting it right from the beginning, keeping the system open to growth, innovation, new technology and functionality is key to scalability and success of your mission.

One way to address this is through a component-based approach and software re-use – when the entire system can be broken down into small self-contained software units, each responsible for particular functionality. You can then pick and choose the components you need to create your unique software packages, a bit like building blocks.

As the components can simply be swapped in and out without re-building the system from scratch, any new mission software can be developed very quickly from existing material with minimal effort and at minimal cost, making your constellation entirely future-proof and open to any new additions – whether it’s new functionality through a software update or a whole new spacecraft with emerging innovative technology.

You can learn more about the component-based approach by booking a demo of our flight software development kit or requesting a free trial.

 

Clever software architecture

 

Software architecture is the foundation of the system. By building effective architecture, you can identify design risks and mitigate them early in the development process.

Good software architecture will

  • ensure your platform is open, scalable and adaptable;
  • optimise and increase your performance;
  • manage change and reduce complexity a lot more efficiently;
  • help reduce mission costs;
  • reduce development time and time to market.

But the more complex you expect your space system to be in the long run, the more difficult it is to design good, stable and scalable software architecture. Much of the challenge comes from the fact that there are no guidelines, manuals or precise rules of how you should design the architecture of your particular system. It requires years of experience and tons of expertise and specialist skills, which are not always readily available for satellite developers and service providers.

At Bright Ascension, we know that simply gaining access to our cutting-edge products and solutions may not be enough, especially if you’ve got limited experience and are trying to build an innovative or intricate space-based system.

That’s why in addition to our innovative software products, one of the most significant benefits of working with us is the support and advice you get through our solid industry expertise. With over 11 years of experience and 40+ spacecraft flying our software in orbit, our team of experienced and skilled space software engineers will support you every step of the journey, advising on the best practices and design solutions to help you develop the state-of-the-art software your mission needs.

Contact us for more information to discuss your mission goals, what you are hoping to achieve and how we can help you to design a software system that will be quick to develop, easy to use, adaptable and scalable and won’t cost the Earth to build and maintain.  

Future-proofing you space software system and making sure it lasts is by no means easy, but launch after launch we are proving that the right products, technology and expertise are exactly what’s needed for success.

 

Learn more: Book a Demo

 

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

Why is future-proofing important?

 

Some may say that future-proofing is a bit like staring at a crystal ball and trying to predict your destiny. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Future-proofing is about anticipating risk and minimising its impact on your business. The space sector, in particular, has always faced substantial risk. The cost of error can be crucial, as we recently saw during the first UK Launch attempt, when all the painstakingly developed payloads were lost at sea as a result of an “anomaly” which is yet to be fully understood.

There are a lot of factors that determine the success of a mission, but understanding and mitigating risk to future-proof your space system can avert potential failures and even open up new opportunities.

 

Testing onboard software

Space software remains at the heart of any mission, binding it together. But even within the most standardised CubeSats, software still tends to be bespoke as every spacecraft is different and that is where risk starts to build up.

Testing is not very exciting, it takes up a lot of time and it is quite laborious, but it is vital and critical for your success. The more testing you do and the more effective you can make it, the more successful your mission will be. Yet testing alone can not save you from potential failure, especially if you’ve got a larger and a more complex space system.

To help you understand how best to avoid common pitfalls, we’ve complied a list of “dos and don’ts” of space software development.  

 

Managing change

Increasingly, the space sector standards demand software to be in development at about the same time as the rest of the mission is getting built – e.g. payload development, hardware specification and configuration, etc. Inevitably, system requirements gradually change and evolve in time, which means it becomes very sensible to adopt an iterative approach to software development.

Whilst very effective, it also makes it very challenging to efficiently manage the constant process of change, which applies to both the onboard software and the ground side – e.g. operations and service delivery. This is a different type of risk that cannot simply be resolved by extensive testing.

Developers need to keep track of the ever-changing requirements and ensure that all the elements of the complex flight-ground software system work well together as they grow and evolve. Well-designed and thought-through system architecture, operations-led design and information sharing become increasingly important for future-proofing the mission and reducing risk at later stages of development and life in orbit.

 

Looking at the bigger picture

The popular iterative approach often encourages engineering effort to be focused on a particular part of the spacecraft, without placing enough focus on the bigger picture and the highly complex space system as a whole, including operations, service delivery and the life span of each individual spacecraft within e.g. a constellation. This creates some significant risks that will only be revealed later in the process.

What’s more, these risks often tend to be significantly more serious, resulting in considerable changes required at the architectural level with re-development and re-engineering which leads to increased costs and market delays.

This fragmentation, inability to see the bigger picture and development of mission elements in isolation tend to be the main cause of inefficiency over the long run, giving higher costs of ownership and lower value generation from the commercial point of view.

 

How to address the challenge?

It’s easy to say that you need to focus on the bigger picture within each particular iteration or ensure that any space system information is shared across the entire mission or constellation. But it may not be so easy to implement.

Fortunately, there are practical solutions that can help reduce risk, failures, costs and delays. Watch this space! We will discuss how to future-proof your mission next week in the second part of this blog post.

 

Learn more: Book a demo

 

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

 

What is Export Licensing?

 

Looking to purchase a software licence from Bright Ascension? It is important to understand the export process that applies to our products under the UK legislation. Our software is classed as a controlled dual-use item, which means that it may require a dedicated export licence depending on where you are established.

Export licence should not be confused with the software licence that you purchase to access our software. It is completely separate and is simply a part of the sales process regulated by the government for dual-use items.

 

What is a Controlled Dual-Use Item?

 

Dual-use items (including software and technology) are items which can be used for both civil and military purposes. The range of satellite applications and uses is extensive and it is possible that our software can be purchased with the intention of use on a military spacecraft. For that reason the UK Government and the Ministry of Defence keep control of certain exports that can be used for dual purposes.

 

What Does it Mean to Me?

 

If you are purchasing a controlled dual-use product, it may require an export licence. But it’s useful to remember that once the product is exported with an assigned licence reference, it cannot be re-exported without appropriate licence/permissions.

 

Do I need an Export Licence?

 

Not everybody needs to go through the export licence application process but it is important to understand which category you fall into.

First, we need to establish which country you, as the licensee (or the end user), reside in.  Your country may be covered by the Open General Export Licence (OGEL) or General Export Authorisation (GEA), which means that there is no need to apply for an individual export licence.

If it’s not included in either of the lists, a process needs to be started to apply for a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL).

OGEL All EU countries
GEA Canada, Australia, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, United States of America
SIEL all other countries

 

So I Need an Export Licence. What’s Next?

 

It may seem complicated at first, but there is no need to worry – we will take care of the export licensing process and will guide you through any documentation we require.

If we need a SIEL licence, the application process should be started as soon as possible as it can take up to 20 working days for approval and that can delay our software licence delivery to you. We will need you to provide supporting documents and we recommend you send them as quickly as possible to avoid any further delays.

Once we obtain all the necessary paperwork, we will make the SIEL application through the SPIRE website.

 

What Paperwork Do You Need From Me?

 

We will need an End User Undertaking form (EUU form) and a letterheaded cover letter. You can download the EUU form and the cover letter template from the Government website. The document includes instructions for filling it in, but we would like to highlight a couple of points:

  • The cover letter must be provided on your company letterheaded paper, scanned or saved as a .pdf. The form that you download from the website above is only a template.
  • Both the EUU form and the cover letter must be signed and dated.

 

Is That All?

 

Yes, once we get all the documentation we will apply for a SIEL licence.

However, please beware that if our software is delivered to a UK company which then integrates it into hardware and exports to a third party, then it’s the responsibility of the UK Integrator to obtain an export licence if required. So if you are buying our software to be sold to another country within a finished hardware product – you will have to initiate the export licensing process yourself.

 

Key Take-Aways

 

  • Our software is classed as a controlled dual-use product
  • Not all clients require individual licences and may already be covered
  • The individual licence application process should be started as soon as possible as it can lead to delays
  • Export licensing process can be tricky, but we will guide you through any documentation we need from you

 

And remember – if you’ve got any further questions or concerns, we are only a phone call or an email away!

 

 

 

The satellite industry is booming like never before and there is no indication that this rapid and sustained growth may halt in the coming years.  There is a distinct demand for space software provision and a good number of vendors are currently on the market to offer both onboard and ground-based products. But when it comes to connecting the entire space system together, the available solutions tend to be disjointed, fragmented, inefficient and poorly integrated, resulting in significant costs, risks, delays to market and service delivery.

What software does a space mission need?

 

Software is a key enabler of achieving mission objectives and it is software that is ultimately responsible for integrating the mission to deliver the service whether it’s connectivity and IoT, positioning and navigation, remote sensing and imaging, or any other service. At the very least, a typical mission needs the following:

  • onboard or flight software to ensure the satellite can function in orbit
  • payload software to implement and support mission objectives
  • test and simulation software to eliminate any risks prior to launch
  • mission control or ground software to operate and talk to the satellite from Earth
  • service delivery software for handling, analysing and/or distributing the data received from space

All software must work together across the complete system, covering flight, ground, and service delivery, as well as the complete life cycle of the mission and not just each individual spacecraft. What’s more the software system must be able to manage changes in requirements and software updates at any time during the mission life cycle.

 

Why is space software integration so important?

 

The lifespan of small satellites in Low Earth Orbit is strictly limited and typically doesn’t exceed 2-5 years. This means that if you are a space-based service provider operating a constellation, you will need to replenish your satellites to continue to provide the service. However, you may encounter a few challenges along the way:

  • Each new satellite in your constellation may have slightly different requirements – e.g. new or updated functionality, hardware or modules. These new components will need to be integrated into the existing and functioning constellation, increasing risk and delivery timescales.
  • As a satellite owner, you may want to take advantage of price competition between hardware manufacturers, which can quickly lead to your constellation becoming heterogeneous. Whilst this is clearly advantageous from the cost point of view, the complexity of managing and operating such a constellation can be significant.
  • The industry is growing and changing at an astonishing pace with constant demand for innovation, improvement and evolution of space products. This puts pressure on satellite companies to develop and deploy new space hardware and software rapidly and reliably in order not to stay behind. Efficiency becomes vitally important and it can only be achieved through a well-integrated and coherent space software system.

Our answer to this is the end-to-end system that supports all stages of space-based service provision and simplifies development, testing, operation and delivery throughout the entire lifespan of the space system.

 

How are we going to connect the space software systems?

 

As a space software technology provider, we aim to offer the end-to-end suite of products to the software market. Our innovative model-based technology will allow service providers to optimise their performance by making all the component hardware and software work well together, so they can get to launch faster with lower risk, adapt to change quicker and easier, and ensure hardware independence.

We plan to deliver a complete software solution for delivering space services right across the service-data value chain. This will help provide an advanced operational concept so operators can focus on mission goals and service delivery and not worry about integration, change management and updates to hardware or software components.

 

How are we going to get there?

 

We already have two products provided as commercial offerings: our Flight Software Development Kit (FSDK) and our Mission Control Software (MCS). Right now we are working on developing the remaining products in the suite.

The development will be implemented within a 2-year timeframe with the support of ESA Artes Pioneer Programme and private investor funding that has already been secured. We plan to approach the project in two stages:

  • Stage One, to be completed in 2023, focusses on the development of early prototypes and MVPs for the entire suite
  • Stage Two is planned for 2024 and will take the suite to another level by enhancing functionality and feature availability for all the products

 

What types of products are in the suite?

 

The products being developed can be grouped into two categories:

  • Development kits: similar to our existing Flight Software Development Kit, we will create a range of feature-rich development environment products to be used for designing user- or mission-specific software packages. All development kits will be based on our modular model-based GenerationOne technology to ensure seamless integration between flight-ground-payload-service software systems.
  • Off-the-shelf products: similar to our existing Mission Control Software, for those customers who do not want to go through a development process, we will create a number of readily-available, yet highly customisable, products for a more standardised and unified approach. The off-the-shelf products will be created through our development kits, which means they will also take full advantage of the underlying GenerationOne technology and the benefits it brings.

Once available we will be able to provide a coherent and integrated solution for a wide range of applications that go from development and validation, through to ground control and operations management, and then to service provision. These products can be used for any mission and any service limited only by the imagination of the client.

 

What is it important now?

 

Most of the products in the end-to-end suite are currently in development, however we already have the Flight Software Development Kit (FSDK) and the Mission Control Software (MCS) available as commercial products. With over 30 satellites in orbit carrying our software onboard, our experience, history and heritage place us in an ideal position for space-based technology provision for any mission – whether it’s a single CubeSat, launched as part of a demonstration mission with the potential to scale up into a larger system, or a major functioning constellation that needs to be managed and optimised.

By getting started now with developing your software package through our FSDK, you are building the foundations for your future space system to ensure it is easy to manage; quick to adapt and scale up; reliable and cost-effective.

It may be hard to appreciate all the benefits an integrated end-to-end system can offer, but we are here to help. Get in touch now to learn more about how our product suite can improve and optimise your mission or space system today and what great things it can help you achieve in the future.

 

Learn more: Book a Demo

 

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

Easy payload interfacing, even for the most unique of missions

 

Each space mission is unique as every spacecraft has its own goals, objectives and reasons for going into space. At the heart of the satellite functionality is the payload, which is highly specific to each particular mission.

Payloads tend to be developed by specialists in their own fields – for example, a communications payload may be developed by an IoT company or a weather monitoring payload may be designed by a company which deals with providing meteorological data. Integrating these payloads into a spacecraft platform, however, remains the task of a satellite developer.

Over the past 10 years we have seen a wide range of payloads and the impact that payload interfacing can have on the mission, its development and operations.

 

What is a satellite payload?

It may be hard to define what exactly a satellite payload is. Essentially, it is the module responsible for performing the main function of the mission, which could be Earth observation, communications or navigation.  It is the heart of the spacecraft and the reason why it exists in the first place.

For example, an Earth observation or a remote sensing satellite may have optics or a radar as its payload. These can be used to monitor the planet for a variety of purposes – e.g. they can observe the changing environment or they can provide evidence of coastal erosion or temperature changes or many other observations that provide users with invaluable data.

Each satellite can have one or multiple payloads, serving different and often unrelated mission goals. Payloads are usually very unique to each mission and are frequently being developed in parallel to the spacecraft platform by a team who probably know their payload technology really well but may not be space specialists.

In addition, the commercialisation of space and standardisation of spacecraft hardware – which can be easily available off-the-shelf – provide a huge amount of flexibility in designing a mission to meet the needs of a payload.

This flexibility, coupled with a lack of specialist mission expertise, can lead to a lot of complexity in the relationship between the payload and the spacecraft platform.

Why is the payload interface important?

 

Since the payload interface is often specified by the payload team, who tend to be non-space specialists, this can often result in somewhat arbitrary design choices and even lead to changes during development. Throw multiple payloads in the mix and you’ll find yourself in deeper trouble than you signed up for!

What’s more, these interface difficulties can impact the mission across its entire lifespan – from the high-level mission specification and design, continuing into hardware and software development all the way through to operations. The relationship between the payload and the platform can have a serious impact on mission development and how effectively the mission operates to achieve its objectives.

Payload interface and protocol

 

A standard payload protocol may seem like an obvious solution to easy and straightforward integration. Aiming for a standard protocol is definitely a good idea, but we’ve seen from experience, that if it is made too restrictive people tend to break it or try and find ways around it. This leads to problems with interpretation of the protocol and communication issues, not just between the payloads and the satellite platform, but also between people in different teams.

It’s a better idea to add more flexibility, such as support for different interfaces. It also makes sense to define one protocol independent of interface technology and map it across interfaces, rather than define a new protocol for each one. Consistency is always the key to success.

However, having on-the-wire compatibility with even the best-defined payload protocol is not enough. More important than bits and bytes is the semantics of the protocol which defines what each part of it means and how they should be used together.

The semantics effectively form the bridge between the protocol and the high-level concept of operations. We have frequently seen mismatches in assumptions about how a payload is to be operated. This often leads to issues of various complexity during both test and on-orbit operations and results in longer development time, higher cost and more risk. That is why the concept of operations for a payload is usually the best place to start the design process, before you proceed to defining interaction semantics or protocols on interfaces.

Having a well thought through payload concept of operations, backed up by standard semantics and protocols is definitely the right way forward to help lower the risk of any mission.

 

Model-Based approach to payload interfacing

 

As we mentioned above, a lot of problems can come from poor communications between teams, with no clear and consistent way of sharing information about how a payload uses the standard protocol.

Perhaps the most valuable thing we have done for improving payload interfacing and management was to define a structured way of gathering all the information about a payload into a single source of truth – a well-defined machine- and human-readable meta-model.

The model captures a great deal of information and some of the most important bits are the specifics of how a service is used by a payload, such as the parameters it has, and all the documentation which goes along with that.

Over the years we have expanded what our model can express to include, at a low level, the ability to specify services themselves, and at a high level, the procedures which can or should be used to operate the payload. We are still relying on the definition of the protocol so the model doesn’t need to capture anything about on-the-wire encoding which would make the model very complex and difficult to use.

Over the past three years, we have been applying this model-based approach to the payload interfacing, and so far, around 10 payloads have been able to benefit from it in terms of easier payload development, integration, test and operations. This, in turn, leads to a significant reduction in development times, risks and costs. It also has a visible impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of mission operations, that we have been involved in.

Real-life mission example

 

The UK Satellite Applications Catapult runs an In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) programme, which offers space companies a fast-track, low-cost opportunity to test their service or technology on a CubeSat mission launched into low Earth orbit. IOD helps accelerate to ‘proof of concept’ stage by providing an affordable in-orbit testbed and a range of operational and business support services to exploit the commercial potential of the mission.

We have been privileged to support Satellite Applications Catapult’s IOD missions with our space software system, including one of their latest missions, Amber-1, which made full use of our model-based payload interfacing approach to support early development and test.

The mission model, which – amongst other things – defines the payload interfacing, has been passed back and forth between the different teams working on the mission and has been an invaluable single source of truth for the latest payload information.

 

Learn more: Book a Demo

 

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

As the New Space market continues to grow, more and more satellite applications require a large number of spacecraft – whether as part of a constellation or an overall programme. These satellites need to be managed and coordinated to work well together and deliver the service to the user.

However, setting it up once is not enough – large space systems are under constant change. Small satellites tend to have a limited life span and need to be regularly replenished. Often, newly added satellites come with different hardware or can even be built by different integrators, which means that they also require new software. Moreover, the satellites that are already flying may also need software updates through maintenance or addition of new capabilities.

As a result, the space system can quickly become very heterogenous and dynamic with constantly changing hardware and software, yet it still needs to be managed as whole.

Challenges

Challenges for flight software development

In order to support high-volume development for large-scale space systems, flight software needs to have a few key features.

Availability

Software needs to be available early in the process for development and testing to support early integration and operations development

Flexibility

Software needs to be highly adaptable to change after launch as requirements may change through updates or addition of new hardware

Rapidity

Timeline for development is typically short and under pressure, so software must be ready quickly

Capability

There is an increasing amount of functionality being shifted from hardware into software, which needs to be supported

Reliability

Software is mission-critical and must be robust with failure risks closely managed and controlled

Scalability

Software needs to be able to scale across the whole flight-ground system, as it grows and develops

Diversity

Even functionally-similar elements may have differences in software

Operability

Software needs to be very easy to operate to deliver the service quickly and efficiently

GenerationOne Technology

 

We tackle the above challenges through our innovative GenerationOne Technology, which we have been developing for the last 10 years. GenerationOne technology is a model-based platform which forms the basis of our unique off-the shelf software products. It supports rapid and cost-effective software development through reusable software components and flexible ways of integrating them together.

 

What is Suitable for Reuse?

 

Many of the above flight software challenges can be addressed through software reuse, but it’s important to determine the size of the units suitable for reuse: this affects how flexible and adaptable the system is and how complex the overall development process can become.

There’s a sliding scale in what can be re-used. On one end, there are large units – e.g. total reuse of one or more applications. Whilst this process is very easy to implement and solves the problem of complexity, it doesn’t offer much flexibility, which is critical for high-volume programmes. On the other end of the scale, there are small units – software elements that can be used to compose applications. This gives a much higher level of flexibility, but it becomes a more difficult process to manage unless you have the right tools.

Our GenerationOne Technology works with small units of reuse, which we call software components, and offers flexible tooling for easy and reliable development.

 

Managing Reuse through Services

 

Managing small units of reuse requires well-defined and well-structured interfaces. Where components interact directly with each other, we use what we call well-defined services.

Service connections can be made statically at build time or dynamically at run time. Services are used to describe interactions between components, including flight-ground interactions. They describe behaviour at a high semantic level, but they do not define any encoding – i.e. they are completely independent of packets or messaging or any other bits of encoding. Within a process, they end up resolving to a very simple function call, whilst out of process they can be mapped onto custom or standard protocols. That allows us to separate what we are trying to represent from how it’s actually being represented. That means that we can abstract the operation of the system away from the underlying messages, packets and hardware systems and offer standard ways of working across a large scale and diverse space system.

Managing Reuse through the Model

 

However, it does mean that there is a lot of information to manage, which can quickly become tedious. And that’s where tooling can really help by making use of the available information to support the overall workflow. We capture this information in the machine-readable format and it builds the basis of our underlying model. We then provide it to tools, which helps speed up the development flow, increase developer efficiency, reduce scope of errors, define configuration and maintain documentation.

The model is focussed on capturing the functional architecture of the system both in terms of services and in terms of components. It covers the complete system – both flight and ground sides, even if it includes multiple spacecraft. It allows you to see the larger picture and the entire system.

The model can be used across the complete development life-cycle – you can start with prototyping and develop a model that is quite sketchy and only defines a few things, but then it can progress to the development process and eventually to operations. The model also makes it easy to identify functional similarities and differences in the system, even if they happen over time, e.g. in constellations with different generations of spacecraft and different capabilities.

Challenges

Challenges for flight software development

With that in mind, take another look at the key challenges to see how GenerationOne helps to support high-volume flight software development.

Availability

The component-based architecture facilitates early software development – you can quickly put together a starting point for your mission using the existing library of components.

Flexibility

Having components as small units of reuse increases flexibility and adaptability as you are able to substitute very small units of functionality in and out. This helps get a lot of flexibility and remain adaptable to change.

Rapidity

Component-based reuse helps facilitate rapid development and the model helps reduce test and ground software configuration time.

Capability

Service-oriented approach helps to manage the complexity associate with a very capable system.

Reliability

Components support reuse of flight proven code and tests can be held in libraries alongside component types. That allows us to achieve high degree of confidence in the code that we are working with.

Scalability

Model can easily be scaled to large constellations (including those developing over time – such as programmes or high volume manufacturing), whilst services help provide consistency.

Diversity

Model helps identify (dis)similar parts of the system, whilst services provide uniformity of semantics independent of implementation.

Operability

Services provide consistent and well-defined semantics for operations, that’s abstracted from the underlying hardware, which is also a good starting point for automations of operations.

Case Study: GenerationOne in a multi-spacecraft system

 

 Faraday Phoenix satellite, developed by In-Space Missions

 

GenerationOne Technology have supported a number of high-volume missions and projects. One recent example is the Faraday service, which is a hosted payload service, developed by In-Space Missions, with frequent scheduled flights and rapid time to flight for payloads. The first of the constellation, Faraday Phoenix, is in orbit at the moment and there are further launches scheduled.

A lot of effort has gone into creating a very flexible and scalable hardware architecture for the Faraday programme, and the software architecture – which has been designed to match that – is making full use of the component-based GenerationOne approach.

Although the spacecraft platform can be similar and is shared between multiple payloads, every satellite is different and the combination of payloads for each satellite is unique. What’s more, some customers have payloads on multiple satellites. That means that the Faraday spacecraft need to be managed both individually and as a constellation.

GenerationOne is used on both flight and operations software for the Faraday programme. The component-based modularity has been critical to managing its diversity, whilst the services have been critical in helping to define things like the standard payload interface, which allows us to do “fast-track” onboarding of payloads. And finally, the underlying model helps capture complete and diverse system and enables multi-satellite operations.

 

Learn more: Book a Demo

 

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

Scotland benefits from a combination of factors that make it an ideal hub for the UK’s satellite industry.

Some of these are self-made fortune, born from the country’s industrial heritage and ambition to compete in a sector that could be worth as much as £4 billion by 2030.

Not content to merely be the place where they’re built, Scotland could soon be the best place for a satellite launch, not just within the UK, but within Europe and potentially anywhere on the globe.

Here’s why.

Scotland Leading the Way

When it comes to space sector talent, Scotland’s pool is considerable. More than 7,000 jobs have been created north of the border thanks to the thriving space industry, and around £254 million is generated for the Scottish economy  every year.

In Glasgow, more satellites are built than in any other European city, and Scotland manufactures more than any other place outside of California. Here at Bright Ascension, we provided the on-board software, ground software and simulation software for UKube-1, the first satellite built in Scotland in 2014.

More than 80 UK  space industry firms have headquarters located in Scotland, which has already established a reputation in the space industry and is set to become a major global player in its future.

AAC Clyde Space is a particularly big name in small satellites, and a key business operating out of Glasgow. Another Scottish heavyweight space company Skyrora is getting ready to introduce a three-stage rocket for the small satellite launch market.

However, much of Scotland’s strength in the industry isn’t just these big names.

The vast range of smaller companies providing solutions from software (like us) to precision cryogenics means that Scotland’s supply chain is growing into a self-sufficient loop.

Everything needed to build, furnish and, soon, launch a satellite can be done entirely in Scotland.

And investment in the sector is healthy – we secured £1 million in funding in August 2021, and a further £500,000 in January 2022.

With its wide-open spaces free from local sources of light pollution and a diverse pool of talent, Scotland is set to become a true hub of space engineering.

But what about facilitating an actual satellite launch?

From Ground to Orbit

Sutherland is set to be the site of the UK’s first spaceport, accommodating vertical rocket launches.

The benefit of vertical launches is that the rocket can pass through the thickest part of Earth’s atmosphere quickly, before making adjustments to its trajectory as necessary.

Further adding to Scotland’s space industry supply chain, this will mean that a satellite can be designed, built, and launched into low orbit entirely within the country’s borders.

The implications for Scotland as a global hub of small satellite development are huge.

The Sutherland spaceport is just the first of the UK’s planned locations for both vertical and assisted launch sites. However, the Sutherland site, as well as a planned Shetland site, will be the first purpose-built sites.

Other plans for the east and south coasts of the UK will make use of existing airports for their assisted, or horizontal, launches.

Why Scotland For the First Spaceport?

There are several advantages to using Sutherland as a vertical launch zone.

Most commercial satellites are launched into low Earth orbit (LEO), assuming they don’t need to maintain a geostationary orbit. Satellites needing a geostationary orbit are best launched from near the Equator in an eastwards direction, where they can make use of the Earth’s highest possible spin rate.

Low Earth orbit or LEO doesn’t need such considerations, since it is known that the satellite with pass us several times a day and this is accounted for. This means that satellites can be launched in a polar orbit – traveling north to south rather than west to east. This makes the UK, and Scotland in particular, a highly attractive location due to the nation’s proximity to the North Pole.

From a location such as the Sutherland spaceport, a satellite can be launched vertically for the most efficient route out of the atmosphere, whilst avoiding risk to population centres. This will be a great boon to UK businesses looking to get small satellites into space, particularly in the case of ‘rideshare’ CubeSats that can carry multiple payloads.

These satellites are empowered with software like our Flight Software Development Kit, that is designed to create limitless combinations of custom-built and ready-made components to produce software packages, tailored precisely to their mission requirements.

Why spend time hunting down resources across the world when the satellite hardware can be built in Glasgow, software – produced in Dundee, and the mission launched from Sutherland?

What Would Spaceports Mean for Scotland?

The commercialisation of space has developed at an astonishing rate and will only continue to accelerate.

With it now possible for civilians to buy their way onto a return flight to space – albeit at prices on the mega rich can afford, for now – private companies are beginning to make their own marks on space technology, which was previously the product of only the resources of national governments.

Countries like India, or the United States have long been associated with space technology, but there is great potential for Scotland to enhance its already-sound reputation and enshrine itself alongside the other big players.

Dundee-Based Bright Ascension for Satellite Software

We’re proud to be part of such an incredible pool of talent, and our software has already helped many a satellite launch, getting them off the ground and carrying out successful missions.

Our Flight Software Development Kit solution for small satellites uses a component-based architecture.

This allows you to take a ‘Lego brick’ approach that means that ready-made library components can be quickly slotted together, and your software can then be easily supplemented with additional capabilities to make it truly unique and fitting for your specific mission.

Learn more: Book a demo

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

How GenerationOne supports software reuse:

For Quick and Cost-Effective Mission Development

 

In the rapidly changing and growing commercial space market, there is a strong need to produce satellite software quickly and at low cost. One of the ways to achieve this is through software reuse, when the package created for one mission can be quickly and easily adapted for another.

To do that, software needs to be broken into units suitable for reuse. But that’s not enough – it also requires flexible ways of integrating the units together, so they can be easily adapted for every change in requirements.

Read on to find out how we approach this challenge through our GenerationOne technology, that we’ve been evolving over the past 11 years.

TECHNOLOGY

What is Gen1?

GenerationOne is a modular technology which is best described as a combination of three aspects.

  • Model-based

    meaning that it has a machine-readable description of the architecture which is understandable by both the space side and the ground side and is used across the life cycle of the system. This means that the ground side can automatically “see” the entire flight software architecture, making integration and configuration virtually redundant.

  • Component-based

    meaning that the central elements of this platform are software components which are entirely self-contained and have a coherent set of functionality. They are designed to facilitate the idea of reuse and create mission-specific spacecraft flight software through our development environment by combining bespoke components with readily-available library components which have been previously validated.

  • Service-based

    meaning that components use services to interact with each other which provides well-defined semantics for interactions on all levels. Services are used both at a high level, to define how the system can be operated, and a low level, to manage hardware interfaces and hardware diversity. This provides a flexible way of integrating the components within the flight system.

How is this structured within the flight system?

 

The focus of the flight system is on the components, which are used to build the vast majority of its functionality.

While every spacecraft and mission are different, most space vehicles perform a number of similar tasks such as data acquisition, monitoring, logging, FDIR, TM/TC, scheduled and automated actions. Within the GenerationOne framework these common functions are provided off-the-shelf to accelerate the development of flight software.

Any unique functionality of each mission can be achieved through custom-made components. This means that GenerationOne helps tailor the software to each mission by allowing the developer to choose which components to use, how many, the way they connect, and to develop custom components for the mission.

All components are made portable to be useable across a wide range of platforms and operating systems.

This approach allows to re-use the existing software components between missions, making new mission development significantly quicker, cheaper and a lot more reliable.

Services in GenerationOne:

How to Achieve Software Flexibility Between Missions 

 

The flexibility of GenerationOne is largely based on the loose coupling of components as they can only interact by consuming or providing services which are defined using the underlying model. This ensures that components can be used interchangeably, as long as their service requirements can be met.

As we know from real-world examples, software requirements can change as mission experience starts to build up and the suitable service may only shape up and become clear over time.  GenerationOne model includes the definition of services, which allows them to evolve, so that new services can be developed to meet new requirements without the need to change existing tooling or infrastructure.

This flexibility means that the space system grows or a need for new missions emerges, the existing components can be swapped in and out and the software can be quickly adapted to a new spacecraft.

 

Model-Based Software Engineering:

How to Streamline Integration of Flight and Ground Sides

 

GenerationOne can be applied to both flight and ground software and one of the most significant advantages is in the integration of the two. Thanks to the model-based approach, the entire flight software package, developed through our Flight Software Development Kit (FSDK), can be quickly and easily understood by our ground system Mission Control Software (MCS).

The spacecraft database generated by each specific deployment can be loaded into our operations software to automatically populate it with all the spacecraft components. This gives the system a full view of the different services and the concepts of the components, which allows for easy interaction at a very high level and extensive opportunities for automated operations.

 

Don’t just take our word for it:

So far, over 40 space missions have used our GenerationOne Technology

 

We’ve been evolving GenerationOne technology for the past 10 years through extensive development work on more than 40 spacecraft which are currently using GenerationOne-based flight and ground software. Find the recent examples of benefits that our innovative technology has offered through real mission use cases: Faraday Phoenix, SeaHawk, IOD-1 GEMS and other Case Studies.

 

BOOK A DEMO: FIND OUT MORE

 

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

Bright Start Academic Sponsorship

There are many reasons why a commercial organisation wants to get involved in academic research. First of all, it is fun and exciting! We get to be part of ground-breaking research, new ideas and new scientific experiments. But more importantly, we are passionate about space and we truly care about where the satellite industry is going and how quickly it grows. We want to help in any way we can. Student projects often operate on extremely tight budgets and a lot of precious time and effort is spent on securing mission funding.

To support future skill-building within the academic community, we developed Bright Start, an academic programme, specially designed to ease the burden of flight and ground software development for student projects. At the first glance, it may not seem sensible to use off-the-shelf software for student projects, but our platform is not a finished and ready-to-use solution, it is a component-based development environment, that can be used to create the unique software package for satellite mission. It helps students to fully cover their most relevant mission and learning objectives quicker and more efficiently within the limited timescales of the course project.

As part of our Bright Start programme, we offer to sponsor up to three of the most interesting and promising academic missions a year. The winners gain free access to our flight and ground software, no strings attached! Read on to find out more about one of our 2021 winners and their mission.

Our 2022/23 Sponsorship Applications are now open until 16th October 2022. Apply to be sponsored now!

SeaLion, Old Dominion University

SeaLion is 3U CubeSat, that is being designed and developed by a team of students and professors at Old Dominion University in Virginia. This smallsat is a collaboration between Old Dominion University, the United States Coast Guard Academy and the Air Force Institute of Technology. Like many other academic CubeSat spacecraft, it is a demonstration mission aiming to advance the technology readiness levels of its payloads, of which there are three:

  • an impedance probe, designed and developed by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Air Force Institute of Technology
  • a commercial-off-the-shelf multi-spectral sensor
  • a deployable composite structure to be validated in orbit

SeaLion is rather an unusual mission for Bright Ascension to be involved in. It will be launched into very low Earth orbit with non-rechargeable batteries as the only power source, which makes the expected mission life of the satellite around 10 days.

An additional challenge of the SeaLion mission is its timescale. The satellite is expected to be launched as a secondary payload onboard the NG 18/19 mission out of Wallops Island, VA in August 2022 on an Antares Rocket. With only a few months before the launch date, the pressure is mounting on rapid development and a no-risk/no-failure scenario.

Luckily, this is exactly what Bright Ascension’s software is all about. New technology demonstration missions need to be developed fast and made fail-proof to validate the payload quickly and at low cost. It is easier said than done, but we can help. Our Flight Software Development Kit allows developers to build their mission software package quickly, using our extensive library of pre-validated and configurable off-the-shelf components – no matter how unique or unusual the project can be.

It may be easy to build a CubeSat, but it is hard to ensure that nothing goes wrong with it in orbit. Our heavily tested, proven code is developed to strict coding standards for mission-critical software and our library comes with pre-validated components with extensive flight heritage to reduce the risk of failure.

We are no strangers to missions with tight timescales and only a few months scheduled for software development. Take a look at our case studies: Faraday Phoenix, Picasso and CASE. As part of the sponsorship package, Old Dominion University received full access to our Flight Software Development Kit and Mission Control Software, which will be key in ensuring that the satellite software package is fail-proof and developed on schedule, and in making yet another mission a success.

“The ODU payload is a technological demonstration mission for a deployable structure with a high (deployable) surface area to (packaging) volume ratio being the benchmark for the future CubeSat mission. It will demonstrate a novel single triggered passive deployable mechanism along with in-situ sensing of composite deployable structure in space condition.”

Jimesh Bhagatji, ODU PhD student in charge of the payload

ACADEMIC PROGRAMME

BRIGHT START

Download the Bright Start brochure to find everything you need to know about our Academic Programme.

Download

Filesize:1.1MB

License Plans: specially designed and heavily discounted product bundle licenses for the academic community

Training and Support: to make sure you have sufficient training and support to use our software, we provide access to member-exclusive support forum and organise shared training sessions

Sponsorship: an opportunity to get your academic mission sponsored with free FSDK and MCS license bundle. We sponsor 3 academic missions each year.

Bright Start Academic Sponsorship

There are many reasons why a commercial organisation wants to get involved in academic research. First of all, it is fun and exciting! We get to be part of ground-breaking research, new ideas and new scientific experiments. But more importantly, we are passionate about space and we truly care about where the satellite industry is going and how quickly it grows. We want to help in any way we can. Student projects often operate on extremely tight budgets and a lot of precious time and effort is spent on securing mission funding.

To support future skill-building within the academic community, we developed Bright Start, an academic programme, specially designed to ease the burden of flight and ground software development for student projects. At the first glance, it may not seem sensible to use off-the-shelf software for student projects, but our platform is not a finished and ready-to-use solution, it is a component-based development environment, that can be used to create the unique software package for satellite mission. It helps students to fully cover their most relevant mission and learning objectives quicker and more efficiently within the limited timescales of the course project.

As part of our Bright Start programme, we offer to sponsor up to three of the most interesting and promising academic missions a year. The winners gain free access to our flight and ground software, no strings attached! Read on to find out more about one of our 2021 winners and their mission.

Our 2022/23 Sponsorship Applications are now open until 16th October 2022. Apply to be sponsored now!

SeaLion, Old Dominion University

SeaLion is 3U CubeSat, that is being designed and developed by a team of students and professors at Old Dominion University in Virginia. This smallsat is a collaboration between Old Dominion University, the United States Coast Guard Academy and the Air Force Institute of Technology. Like many other academic CubeSat spacecraft, it is a demonstration mission aiming to advance the technology readiness levels of its payloads, of which there are three:

  • an impedance probe, designed and developed by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Air Force Institute of Technology
  • a commercial-off-the-shelf multi-spectral sensor
  • a deployable composite structure to be validated in orbit

SeaLion is rather an unusual mission for Bright Ascension to be involved in. It will be launched into very low Earth orbit with non-rechargeable batteries as the only power source, which makes the expected mission life of the satellite around 10 days.

An additional challenge of the SeaLion mission is its timescale. The satellite is expected to be launched as a secondary payload onboard the NG 18/19 mission out of Wallops Island, VA in August 2022 on an Antares Rocket. With only a few months before the launch date, the pressure is mounting on rapid development and a no-risk/no-failure scenario.

Luckily, this is exactly what Bright Ascension’s software is all about. New technology demonstration missions need to be developed fast and made fail-proof to validate the payload quickly and at low cost. It is easier said than done, but we can help. Our Flight Software Development Kit allows developers to build their mission software package quickly, using our extensive library of pre-validated and configurable off-the-shelf components – no matter how unique or unusual the project can be.

It may be easy to build a CubeSat, but it is hard to ensure that nothing goes wrong with it in orbit. Our heavily tested, proven code is developed to strict coding standards for mission-critical software and our library comes with pre-validated components with extensive flight heritage to reduce the risk of failure.

We are no strangers to missions with tight timescales and only a few months scheduled for software development. Take a look at our case studies: Faraday Phoenix, Picasso and CASE. As part of the sponsorship package, Old Dominion University received full access to our Flight Software Development Kit and Mission Control Software, which will be key in ensuring that the satellite software package is fail-proof and developed on schedule, and in making yet another mission a success.

Although a lot of the framework and library components are ready to go by having the kit withthe flight-ready software, I was able to look at the code, see how they chose to implement things and learn how it all worked. So even though off-the-shelf software might not immediately seem suitable for a project with learning objectives, it actually really was.

Maeve Doyle, PhD Student, Software and Operations, EIRSAT-1 Team, University College Dublin Centre for Space Research

ACADEMIC PROGRAMME

BRIGHT START

Download the Bright Start brochure to find everything you need to know about our Academic Programme.

Download

Filesize:1.1MB

License Plans: specially designed and heavily discounted product bundle licenses for the academic community

Training and Support: to make sure you have sufficient training and support to use our software, we provide access to member-exclusive support forum and organise shared training sessions

Sponsorship: an opportunity to get your academic mission sponsored with free FSDK and MCS license bundle. We sponsor 3 academic missions each year.

Over the past 10 years we have gained an impressive amount of experience building a good number of diverse satellite missions. To mark our 10th anniversary, we have compiled a list of common “Dos” and “Don’ts” that we often come across in the development process.

Download the full list of the “Dos” and “Don’ts” of mission software development.

1

1. DO

Consider CONOPS Early

To deliver the most value to your satellite mission, decisions around the concept of operations need to drive the design. It is important to understand in practical terms how the interface is going to be used from the operational point of view. If you fail to define that, you risk developing a package that technically works as intended but is really difficult for operators to use or is very expensive and very impractical.

ALSO READ…


Computer LED keyboard

Blog

6 Ways to Build a Space System with Operations in Mind

Space system developers see flight software as separate and independent from its ground counterpart. Consider an alternative approach that focusses on what you are trying to achieve for your mission rather than how it is implemented.


space satellites

Product

Mission Control Software

Easy-to-use monitoring and control of onboard changes during development and flight

2

2. DO

Influence Hardware Decisions

Depending on the context in which you are operating, take every possible opportunity to influence the design of the hardware and the interfaces. That is the part of the system where things can easily go wrong. Whilst all the parts of your satellite mission may technically meet your defined requirements, you may easily end up compromising the overall system performance because of the interface technology you’ve chosen, or the signals you do/don’t have available or the design of the protocol.

ALSO READ…


Padlock on wooden door

Blog

Say No to Vendor Lock-In: Benefits of an Open and Modular Software System

As a service provider, you may want to take advantage of price competition between hardware manufacturers and make your constellations heterogeneous, comprising satellites from different manufacturers with different capabilities. Learn more about avoiding vendor lock-in.

3

3. DO

Use Consistent Terminology

Avoid inconsistent terms, as they can lead to major errors. For example, you may see SPIs referred to as 0-1-2-3 in some places but a-b-c-d in others. There is an implicit conversion between them but it’s not documented. Software terminology (e.g. parameter, configuration, task) can often be used very loosely, but it should have a very precise meaning. It is critical to be very strict with maintaining consistency of your terms.

ALSO READ…


Flight Software Development Ki - Lit up map of europe

Product

Flight Software Development Kit

Unique development environment for mission-specific flight software

4

4. DO

Prioritise clarity over optimisation

When developing CubeSat software, it is important to ensure that it can be understood by others, both on the architectural level of the design of the interfaces and right down to the source code itself. This is especially true if development is to be shared between several team members or extended over a long period of time. It may be tempting, especially when dealing with resource constraints, to worry about optimisation too early and compromise the clarity of the system. Only introduce optimisation when you have evidence of performance problems and address those without compromising the overall integrity of your design.

ALSO READ…


Earth from space

Solutions

Find the right solution for YOUR mission

Whatever your satellite project, we’ve got the solutions to help you simplify and optimise your space mission through our innovative satellite software products.

5

5. DO

Work in functioning increments

You may find it very valuable to adopt the following pattern for satellite software development: 1.build-integrate-test in little chunks 2. repeat 3.do this as a fully visible part of the development process. This approach will allow you to demonstrate progress and deliver value as early as possible into the project, reduce integration risks from the start and build confidence in requirements to ensure you’re developing the right software for your mission.

ALSO READ…


Satellite connections

Blog

Distributed Systems, Distributed Design

A distributed systems approach can be an effective tool in software development for space missions. Find out what it is and how it impacts the development and operations of a space system.

6

6. DON’T

Don’t over-generalise solutions

Resist the temptation to build something that can be re-used in every possible context you can imagine, especially if the satellite software is meant to be re-usable. It can be a dangerous trap which will waste a lot of your time and effort on something that may never be used again. Additionally, it adds risks into the project that you may appear to cover in different use cases, but they are not fully tested. You need to put sensible limitations on the generality of the solution you’re developing and keep the focus on the needs of your particular mission.

ALSO READ…


Off the shelf software being used by a man

Webinar Recording

Enabling portability across diverse hardware with a model-based approach

Watch our CEO talk about how we use the model-based approach to tackle the problem of satellite software re-use across a wide range of hardware.

7

7. DON’T

Don’t under-generalise solutions

On the other hand, it’s a bit of a balancing act here. If you do the bare minimum to get the task done without taking a step back to think about putting different abstractions in place and considering the overall architecture, you’re likely to end up with something that is difficult or even impossible to maintain. Inevitably, your requirements change and something that is very specialised is going to be quite hard to manage.

ALSO READ…


Model-based software engineering could be used for small satellites, robotics, automated space systems, and much more.

Blog

More Than Just CubeSats: Model-Based Software Engineering in Space

Model-based approach based on components means the platform can be easily adapted to any system that is suited to model-based software engineering. This could be small satellites, robotics, automated space systems, and much more.

8

8. DON’T

Don’t design “super managers”

When you’ve developed an architecture with a number of different modules in it, you may resist the introduction of a new element because of the workload it involves. But that is a risky strategy. If you have some functionality that you are unsure what to do with, you may end up lumping it into something that is vaguely related. For example, if you have a payload manager component, anything remotely related to the payload may end up added in here. If you’re not careful about what you’re doing, this may result in developing unmaintainable super functionality, which can compromise the integrity of your design and coherent functionality of your modules. It’s always good to step back and think about re-visiting your architecture.

ALSO READ…


Gen1__

Technology

Learn more about GenerationOne Technology

GenerationOne technology is a model-based platform which forms the basis of our unique off-the shelf satellite software products. It brings a wide range of benefits to all aspects of missions, end-to-end and across the full life-cycle.


Flight Software Development Ki - Lit up map of europe

Product

Flight Software Development Kit

Unique development environment for mission-specific flight software

9

9. DON’T

Don’t be lazy with requirements

Your project requirements may often be incomplete, and you may be reluctant push back on them. However, there really has to be a good specification of the satellite software, agreed with everybody within the project team. Otherwise, it’s easy to end up with something that does not actually meet the expectations of your mission. The specification does not need to be in the traditional format of documenting requirements. Depending on the mission, it could be in the form of user stories or other formats, but it is vital to have a written agreed specification that everybody can easily access.

ALSO READ…


Launched Missions

Our Hall of Fame

See the full list of the missions we worked on.


Case Studies

It’s the results that count

Browse our case studies to learn how we help our clients reach for the stars.

10

10. DON’T

Don’t underestimate integration

When you start integrating the bits of satellite software together on the actual hardware, it is important to recognise in the project plan and across the mission team that the integration may not work the first time round. There are always going to be incompatibilities and things you haven’t thought of before. It is highly likely that you will discover new problems when you see the whole system working together in more realistic conditions. It is important to have a recognition of that in your plans and give it space to iterate and get it right.

ALSO READ…


Integrated system

Blog

Benefits of Integrated Space-Ground Software Systems

The ground and space segments of a satellite project are often developed independently of each other and at different life cycles of the mission. Find out about an alternative model-based approach which support for quick and easy integration of flight and ground segments.

Think we can help? Give us a ring or drop us an email, we are here to help. Contact us today to discuss your satellite software needs.

A distributed systems approach can be an effective tool in software development for space missions. Read on to find out what a distributed system is and how it impacts the development and operations of a space system.

What is a distributed system? 

A distributed system is a collection of computing elements that are all executing simultaneously and at least semi-independently. They can be on the same computer or different ones, they can also be simple or complex. Traditionally, you would think of a distributed system as a network, but it can also be operating on a single processor. A distributed system aims to achieve a common goal or implement a desired behaviour.

Space systems are already inherently distributed between space and ground, but it is important to see them as a whole, as a single system, where the responsibility is shared between computing elements.

However, the distribution does not have to stop at “space and ground”, it can be further extended to include multiple onboard computers, various smart payloads or even multiple satellites to form clusters and constellations. And while all the separate elements of such a system (e.g. multiple OBCs or multiple satellites) have their own functionality, only by working together they can complete the mission objectives.

The design of a distributed system, even if it needs to be extended beyond the “space and ground” elements, relies on different factors:

A relatively simple satellite with a single OBC for platform control and a single payload may not need a complex distributed system. But it is still important to view this as distributed as there are different elements working together to fulfil the mission, including the ground segment. A more complex system with multiple OBCs controlling the platform and multiple intelligent payloads can really benefit from the distributed approach.

Development process

Distributed systems come with their own challenges.

Having multiple elements means working with multiple interfaces. Integrating them together can be tricky.

From the operator’s perspective, it can be difficult to identify where issues occur. For example, if an operator wants to send a simple high level command to the spacecraft (e.g. “go to mission mode A”) and gets a failure message, it can be hard to identify where it happened in the system.

One way to try and stop this from happening is to develop elements that are loosely coupled and have a well-defined interface. This way the elements have clearly designed roles to perform, can be developed in complete isolation and are easier to test and re-use.

However, the challenge of multiple interfaces still remains, and this is where using the model-based approach can be very useful. It allows you to describe your entire distributed system in a model and use tooling to generate the interface software for communication between the various elements. This approach significantly reduces the complexity and removes human error.  

Operational impact

Operating a distributed system means having multiple interactions to achieve overall system behaviour. You can reduce the complexity of operations by splitting and distributing the responsibility between elements. This means the operator has less orchestration to do and it makes automation a lot easier.

In practice, this means that when the operator executes high level commands (e.g. “go to mission mode A”), they do not need to worry about all the details happening in the background and can fully focus on achieving the desired behaviour.

If you do not distribute responsibility, the elements will not be able to work independently of the operator. This does keep the operator more in control, but it decreases the operability and makes it more difficult to automate the mission.

Viewing space systems as distributed can be a powerful approach, as it offers significant development and operational benefits. Our product suite is model-based and is designed to support distributed systems.

Learn more: Book a demo

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

6 Helpful Tips for Operations-Led Software Development

Traditionally, space system developers see flight software as separate and independent from its ground counterpart. Often, the two systems are developed by different teams or even different contractors and at different life cycles of the mission.

In this article, we want to offer you an alternative approach that focusses on what you are trying to achieve in terms of your mission rather than how it is implemented. Don’t think of flight and ground software as two disconnected systems separated by spacelink. Think of them as two components of a single larger structure. It will help you to avoid a lot of issues later on in your mission.

1. Consider CONOPS early 

The concept of operations should be the main driver of your system design. Focus on what you want to achieve and how you want to do it – i.e. how you are going to fly and operate your spacecraft. CONOPS is something that should be developed very early on and it should drive everything you do in terms of software and hardware. To avoid serious issues later on in your mission, try to consider all aspects of operations, such as available data volumes, bandwidth, etc.

2. Review commanding

As part of CONOPS, consider how your software and your spacecraft are going to be used and how the information should be moved around. For example, you may have three parameters – latitude, longitude and altitude of your spacecraft – but if you develop them as stand-alone parameters that need to be retrieved separately, they can become redundant. When sampled, latitude and longitude may be seconds apart and the information you receive becomes pointless. To make sense, these parameters should be accessed at the same time.

For efficient system design, consider how your spacecraft works and how you are going to work with your data.

3. Observe

It’s important to be able to observe everything that goes on with your spacecraft. Your software and hardware onboard are probably quite complex and if anything goes wrong, you want to be able to investigate it and handle it efficiently. To achieve this, all parts of your system, both flight and ground, should be visible.

However, there has to be a balance between being able to observe everything and dealing with a resource constrained system, small contact times and low bandwidth. It can be a real challenge to find an easy way to convey the state of all systems but only share the information that will be useful.

4. Assess security

With the industry growing more public, security is becoming more and more important. 5-10 years ago it was almost a novel idea in the smallsat sector, with relatively few missions taking security as seriously as we need to today. It is not just encryption and authentication of spacecraft or spacelinks, it’s the security of the whole flight and ground system that needs to be considered from the very early stages in all parts of your design, because it is really hard to add it in later on.

Find or compile a list of threats that could potentially exist and decide which ones are relevant to your mission.

5. Plan for failure

Anticipating failure is central to everything you do in operations, because it is inevitable that at some point something will go wrong. It is important to be prepared for this moment. Think of the entire flight and ground system, how it can fail and the different ways you can deal with it. You may consider your design, your hardware or software choices; you may also think of how you can design your system so that when this does happen, the issue can be resolved quickly and effectively.

For example, make sure that telemetry information in a safe mode beacon is actually relevant to resolving all the issues which could get you there.

6. Test

Testing is not very exciting, it takes up a lot of time and it is quite laborious, but it is vital and critical for your success. The more testing you do and the more effective you can make it, the more successful your mission will be. It is great if you can do “day in the life” testing of your complete satellite, but it is much better if you can arrange for an even longer campaign, for example, “week in the life”.

The more representative your testing is, the more issues you will avoid. For example, if you are going to be using a ground station you’ve never worked with before, make sure you talk to it weeks or months before the launch to ensure there are no problems in communication.

To support efficient flight-ground system development, our software products offer tight and easy integration. The entire flight software package, developed through our FSDK product, can be quickly and easily understood by our ground system Mission Control Software (MCS). This approach means that for those using both our products there is little configuration required for the mission. Read more about the benefits of integrated flight-ground software development here.

Learn more: Book a demo

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

Despite everything we know about space exploration and building spacecraft that can withstand conditions outside Earth’s atmosphere, there’s so much still to learn and develop. The most work in the space industry doesn’t lie in what needs to be made now, but what might be made in future.

What could the future of space exploration hold, and where might it take us next?

What can we expect from the future of space exploration?

There are many developments that could benefit space exploration, from improved propulsion methods for small satellites to new ways to launch satellites into space.

The greatest barrier to entry for those looking to compete in the growing space market is cost. It’s likely that future space exploration developments will aim to reduce the barriers imposed by expensive technology through innovation and, as always, miniaturisation.

Ultimately, advancements in space exploration are aiming to simplify a highly complex, costly, and risky frontier. There are many ways through which this can be achieved, and no one single technology is going to overhaul the space industry on its own.

What new technology is being developed to help with future space missions?

Though not being developed solely for space exploration, artificial intelligence has as much to offer the space industry as it does so many other sectors.

AI can help space travel through detailed analyses of risks and predictive flight models, and can even help design the hardware used to build spacecraft, as shown by recent applications by NASA.

In fact, NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program funds early-stage studies that might unlock new concepts shaping the future of space exploration. If concepts included in this program are proven successful, they could lead to the study of planets outside our solar system and drastically shorten the travel time of spacecraft looking to move beyond the heliosphere.

New communications methods being developed using laser technology may enable faster, more secure transmission of data. Videos and images taken by spacecraft can be beamed to Earth from around the Moon. Since laser communication increases the amount of data that can be sent, it allows for higher resolution pieces to be sent with greatly improved speed.

Of course, space exploration involves more than just traversing the vacuum of space itself. Other technology being developed addresses the need to explore celestial bodies that are currently unreachable by humans, such as the moons of distant planets like Saturn.

One such concept being developed is that of a ‘robotic snake’ that propels itself on screw threads, which will allow it to traverse icy terrain and hunt for sources of water. The snake can create 3D maps of its surroundings and upload the data back to Earth, all whilst acting autonomously.

Why is it important to have up-to-date software when launching a space mission?

Despite the focus on new hardware and technological concepts when developing for space exploration, the importance of software cannot be overstated.

Leaving software to age and fall behind can end with discordant systems that don’t communicate as they should, and can cause once-integrated software to become stovepipe systems that need to be reworked.

Software may also need updating to account for new standards and paradigm shifts in space exploration, or to get several steps ahead and futureproof systems against constant change. It’s often far more beneficial to be proactive than reactive in keeping software up-to-date and robust.

Once a space mission has been launched, there’s very little to be done if the software fails. For those launching small satellites like CubeSats, recovery is impossible in the event that out-of-date software hinders the operation of the craft or its payload. All of the time and money invested into the satellite goes to waste, and the small craft is left to deorbit and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

How can Bright Ascension’s new space mission control software help with the future of space exploration?

There is only so much that can be done to develop space exploration from tests on Earth. To truly verify ideas and concepts, they need to be launched into space and tested in situ.

To ensure scientific accuracy in tests—and to protect the function and success of the spacecraft as much as possible—a satellite’s mission control software needs to be reliable, robust, and efficient.

Bright Ascension’s MCS makes this as flexible and straightforward as possible, using a graphical interface to simplify use and bringing together the monitoring and control of the mission into one solution.

Bright Ascension’s Mission Control Software simplifies the task of monitoring and controlling an active satellite, monitoring telemetry and scripting complex tasks to make mission control effortless.

To find out more about Bright Ascension’s software solutions for small satellites, contact us today and book a demo.

In looking for solutions to help you develop spacecraft software, there are a variety of options open to you. Some, like the Flight Software Development Kit (FSDK), are commercially licensed, while others are released under open source licences. All seek to solve real problems in space systems.

We have designed the FSDK to not only provide solid engineering solutions, but to also provide dramatic mission-level benefits. Consider how these benefits could contribute to the success of your mission:

Short startup time

Getting software engineers up to speed with new tools takes time, but the FSDK architecture allows teams to focus only on the areas they need to. The FSDK is component-based with hundreds of software components available out of the box, giving engineers the space to concentrate on the new functionality your mission needs.

This means that you can quickly cover all the basic and standard functionality for your mission (e.g. data acquisition, monitoring, logging, FDIR, TM/TC, etc. ) and focus on what makes it unique such as payload interfacing and managing, telemetry handling, communication protocols and your concept of operations.

Simple reuse

The FSDK allows software components written for one mission to be easily reused on another, even if the spacecraft hardware is different – even if the onboard computer the software needs to run on has changed!

Components can often be combined in new ways to achieve new functionality, avoiding the need to start again from the ground up.

Built-in scalability

The FSDK inherently builds in the ability for different elements of the space system to talk to each other. To access functionality on one spacecraft from another, all that is required is a communications link between the two and the relevant easily configured software components. This allows complex networks of assets to be built with little development overhead.

As you space system grows and develops, you may find beneficial to keep your architecture open to new hardware in order to avoid vendor lock-in. The FSDK allows individual modules to be quickly and easily substituted according to your requirements – whether you are adding new capability to a new satellite in your space system or simply trying to save cost by opting for a more cost-effective vendor.

Operations integration

While not required, the FSDK excels when used with our ground software products. When the FSDK flight software is built a “spacecraft database” is generated – this allows the ground software to understand how to interact with the flight software with almost zero manual configuration.

Operations procedures can be written, tested and iterated upon while the flight software is still in development, reducing development risk.

Save cost

It is easy to choose an open-source solution based on purchase cost only. But it is crucial to think beyond the purchase point and take into account all the expenses and risks through to the final qualified ready-for-flight version.

The FSDK can save considerable cost through faster and more efficient development process, lower risk, simpler and quicker onboarding process to get you started and straightforward scalability options as you forward.

With many hidden elements and overheads, only choosing a well-structured, well tried and tested development environment will give you the lowest development cost and shortest development time of all.

Support and advice

The FSDK is developed by a passionate team who are keen to share the fruits of our labour with our customers. We always seek to help you get the most out of the FSDK. We provide training sessions tailored to your needs and online support via our ticketing system.

We are also happy to discuss the architecture and design of your mission, drawing on our experience across the space industry. Understanding your mission needs ensures we can keep the FSDK developing in the right direction for our customers.

We believe an FSDK licence represents real value for money in comparison to a variety of competitors, be they open source solutions or other commercial offerings.

Learn more: Book a Demo

We’ve been evolving our technology over the past 12 years through extensive development work. During this time, our software has powered more than 50 spacecraft in orbit, helping them to maximise their mission potential. 

Contact us today to see our products in action and arrange a one-to-one demo of our software, tailored to your unique mission needs and requirements.

What are satellites used for?

We’ve come a long way since the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was successfully placed in orbit around the Earth in 1957. Today, we can hardly imagine our lives without satellite technology. Often, we do not even realise the numerous ways they have become a part of our daily lives.

Broadly speaking, satellites applications can be broken down into three categories:

Each of these categories includes multiple uses for artificial satellites, designed to make a positive impact on our lives and societies.

Earth Observation satellites

According to the Satellite Database, assembled by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), nearly a third of satellites currently in orbit are used for Earth observation purposes. They provide us with images from around the globe and help us monitor areas that are too remote for human access.

The most obvious and recognisable applications of Earth observation satellites are weather forecasts and maps. However, they can be used for many more diverse purposes. For instance, they can help combat the ongoing climate change crisis: by observing and monitoring the changing environment, they provide reliable evidence of coastal erosion, temperature changes, deforestation, melting ice sheets, ocean pollution, coral reef bleaching and many other observations that provide invaluable data on the changing climate.     

How Earth observation satellites work

Essentially, there are two main types of Earth Observation satellites: optical and radar.

Optical satellites use reflected sunlight to gather data. They view the world as the human eye does, which means imagery is only available on a clear and mostly cloudless day. Radar satellites, on the other hand, work by emitting microwave pulses which reflect off ground features. This provides uninterrupted views day and night under any weather conditions. In the recent years, it has become more common for Earth observation scientists to use both optical and radar data sets in their analysis and research.

Earth observation space missions built on Bright Ascension’s software

At Bright Ascension, we have been privileged to support a number of Earth observation space missions over the years.

SeaHawk: Ocean Colour Monitoring Earth Observation CubeSat

SeaHawk-1 is an earth observation CubeSat. The innovative ocean colour monitoring CubeSat, was designed by the University of North Carolina. Its sensor observes changes in ocean surface colour, which relates directly to the substances and the organisms within it. Captured daily, high-resolution observations of ocean changes can be used for multiple purposes: from alerting researchers to the onset and expansion of harmful algal blooms, to potential fishing zones. This CubeSat is a proof of concept of a system which has the potential to greatly increase the availability and resolution of scientifically important ocean colour data through a network of satellites that are much smaller and cheaper than those currently used for this purpose.

SeaHawk was built with our Flight Software Development Kit to accelerate space mission development and is taking full advantage of the benefits offered by our Mission Control Software.

IOD-1 GEMS: Weather Observation CubeSat

The IOD-1 space mission was the key first step in the Orbital Micro Systems’ GEMS programme roll-out to test the commercial viability of the proposed service and prove its concept and technology.

The company’s weather observation payload, developed as part of the Global Environmental Monitoring Satellite (GEMS) program, is designed to deliver highly accurate and frequent weather readings for the benefit of the insurance, aerospace, maritime, energy and agricultural industries. For example, airlines and shipping companies will be able to plan routes taking into account optimal weather conditions, reducing delays, fuel consumption and emissions while operating with greater safety.

The GEMS network is expected to gather weather data more frequently and with better clarity than the large institutional satellites currently in use. IOD-1 GEMS was built to demonstrate the viability of the service to potential customers and prove successful operation of the payload technology.

The IOD-1 GEMS CubeSat, successfully deployed in 2020, ran a flight software suite developed by Bright Ascension using our Flight Software Development Kit, and communicated with our Mission Control Software running at the operations centre.

See our Launched Missions to find out more about the different types of earth observation CubeSats and other space missions we’ve supported over the years. Alternatively, contact us today to discuss your satellite software needs.