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Why You Need to Future-Proof Your Space Software System

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.