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How to Choose Top-Tier Mission Control Software

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: 

  • Telemetry, Tracking, and Command (TT&C): Seek a rich environment that allows for monitoring of telemetry data, parameters and events, including telemetry visualisation and archiving, telemetry monitoring with alarms and condition notification, precise satellite tracking, easy management of multiple satellites, and comprehensive command functionalities. 
  • Automation and Scheduling: Prioritise software that streamlines tasks through automation, schedules operations, and quickly responds to mission-critical events. Extensive scheduling and automation features, such as automated pass management including downlink/uplink handling, will help optimise unattended operations, improve reliability of the mission and maximise uptime. 
  • Data Analysis and Visualisation: Ensure the software offers a suite of powerful tools for in-depth data analysis and intuitive graphical visualisation to help make the operator’s job more efficient and easier to perform. 
  • Security and Compliance: Look for a “secure by design” approach with stringent security protocols and regulatory compliance measures to safeguard sensitive satellite operations. 

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.