6 Ways to Build a Space System with Operations in Mind

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.

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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.