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1. Solution

Launch faster

Our Flight Software Development Kit uses a modular structure, which means that even the most unique mission software can be developed in record time by combining pre-existing off-the-shelf components, common to most missions, with bespoke ones, unique to your spacecraft.

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Product

Flight Software Development Kit

FSDK allows you to combine bespoke and pre-validated library software components. This means you can develop your spacecraft flight software faster and with greater reliability.


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Technical Info

Systems and platforms we support

View the growing list of Onboard computer (OBC) platforms, communications protocols and subsystems supported by the FSDK.

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2. Solution

Reduce risk of failure

It is 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 produces pre-validated and readily-available software components to reduce the risk of failure. Our extensive flight heritage is another testament to the quality and reliability of our software.

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Space Constellation

Blog

FSDK vs open-source options

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


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Launched missions

We are flight-proven

Over the years, more than 30 spacecrafts have reached orbit with our flight software onboard, with many more missions currently in development.

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3. Solution

Minimise your costs

The key to low-cost and fast CubeSat development is standardisation of both hardware and software. Modular and off-the-shelf spacecraft flight software is cost-effective by its very nature, but it is also quick to implement, meaning that it can significantly reduce your engineering effort, lowering your costs even further.

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Blog

How to build a low-cost satellite

Standardisation and wide use of off-the-shelf components allow developers to keep costs under control at fixed prices and limit the requirement for specialist skills and resources.


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Blog

10 Dos and Don’ts of Space Software Development

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.

Being incredibly small satellites, it would be uneconomical to give CubeSats their own dedicated launches. Though CubeSats still (currently) need the help of a rocket to get into orbit, no individual CubeSat is the main payload of its ride vehicle. Some rockets are launched with the purpose of carrying several nanosatellites into orbit at once, acting as CubeSat launch services, but often a CubeSat ‘rideshares’ a rocket, piggybacking off a spacecraft launched for another purpose. An alternative to these rideshare launches is to deploy CubeSats from the International Space Station. Using the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS), the satellite arrives at the ISS among other cargo and is deployed into orbit from the station’s airlock. Once launched, CubeSats are generally on their own. Some can use propulsion systems that utilise fuel while other non-fuel methods face ongoing testing, but the majority are left to the mercy of atmospheric drag which slowly erodes their orbits.

CubeSats typically serve a lifespan of two to five years. Part of this is due to the fact that small satellites can’t fight drag as effectively as their larger brethren. Additionally, the limited space and weight allowance of a CubeSat means that incorporating propulsion systems that utilise an onboard fuel source is difficult. When the time comes to remove a CubeSat from orbit, it’s typically left to fall back into our atmosphere where it will disintegrate as it falls to Earth, a concept commonly seen in sci-fi media and cultural depictions of space travel. This is possible thanks to the smaller size of CubeSat satellites meaning there is less material to burn up. Currently, this is the most efficient and feasible way to dispose of an old CubeSat. Due to their limited lifespans, CubeSats serving ongoing purposes need constant replenishment. However, this doesn’t always mean simple like-for-like swaps, as changes in software and hardware can leave different nodes of a CubeSat constellation mismatched. Care has to be taken to ensure that systems can still communicate and the network still functions as intended from the top down. Different architectures between individual satellites can complicate management of the network – a challenge that is fully met by our GenerationOne technology that underpins all our software products. The GenerationOne technology is component-based, meaning that any software elements responsible for particular functionality can be quickly swapped in and out once requirements or hardware change. But more importantly, it is also model-based – i.e. it automatically captures the model or description of the onboard system and shares it across the entire infrastructure, making integration and configuration as effortless as they can possibly be. This allows all the software and hardware elements of the space system communicate and work well together, greatly simplifying the task of managing satellites throughout their life cycles.

CubeSats are all about COTS components, so there is less time needed on developing the bits and pieces and more on the actual building, testing, and validating of your satellite. With a dedicated team and the necessary components to hand, a CubeSat could be built comfortably within a year or even less. CubeSat projects like those of NASA can take around two years from initial concept to finished satellite. Using an aforementioned CubeSat ‘kit’ could lessen your overall development time by eliminating the need to source certain parts, like a structure and onboard computer, instead condensing several required components into a single purchase.

It can be hard to know just how many satellites of any given kind have been put into orbit, as well as how many are still functioning and how many have since been decommissioned. According to the latest information available in the Nanosats Database, just shy of 1,900 CubeSats have been launched into Earth’s orbit, though there are doubtless more being built and tested as you read this right now. CubeSat numbers, in many ways, have more chances of increasing because of their accessibility and COTS component makeups. They don’t require the same infrastructure to build that conventional satellites demand, meaning anybody with the requisite time and knowhow could put one together in their bedroom.

Building a CubeSat can vary widely in cost. This often comes down to the complexity of the satellite you’re building and the sophistication of the parts included. A relatively simple 3U CubeSat can be built for around £20,000, with prices always changing as technology improves. Some components will represent the biggest chunk of cost where others might be surprisingly cheap. The difference between a 1U CubeSat structure and an 8U structure can take that particular part of your budget from £1,500 to £8,000. More powerful and recently-developed components will cost significantly more than legacy hardware. Cutting-edge battery matrixes and system cores are exclusive to larger budgets, with some of these parts costing significantly more than the entire development of a simpler, smaller CubeSat. Read more about how much it costs to build a CubeSat.

CubeSats use a power range roughly between five and 20 watts. Being small and sparing in the demand they place on components, CubeSats typically get away with diminutive onboard batteries and solar panels for recharging power. Similar to issues with accommodating propulsion, CubeSats only have so much space to work with when considering power systems. Some CubeSats will need very little in the way of power to keep components running, but others with more demanding missions may need to be keeping communication systems and imagers online in addition to everything else. Fortunately, being out in orbit means a higher exposure to solar radiation, meaning solar panels are many times more effective on a satellite than they are on the ground.

CubeSats were originally conceived as an accessible route to satellite development for students and budding engineers. As a result, they were commonly used for scientific and research-based missions, since they allowed universities to get their own spacecraft into orbit on limited budgets. However, among factors such as the miniaturisation of technology and emerging commercial space industry, commonly referred to as ‘New Space’, CubeSats have begun to replace conventional satellites in some applications. CubeSats are now used in constellations to meet navigation and telecommunications needs, and are even being tested in military and defence capabilities such as missile defence. With the right payload, a CubeSat can carry out its role just as effectively as a conventional satellite but with a much smaller mass and lower cost to both build and launch.

CubeSats can have the means to carry out missions just as effectively as bigger conventional satellites, while costing less to develop and build; being smaller and therefore easier to launch; and serving shorter lifespans which can be planned around and are more suitable for short-term missions and proof of concept flights. These benefits previously made them most beneficial to research teams and scientists with limited budgets (not to mention the lack of necessary facilities to build a big satellite). However, CubeSats are now equally as worthy of consideration for ‘real’ satellite teams as conventional spacecraft. CubeSats have been to Mars and NASA’s developing INSPIRE project aims to prove the efficacy of CubeSats far beyond Earth.

Although relatively straightforward, CubeSats can still generate long shopping lists of various components depending on their mission. COTS components come as simple as they possibly can, ready to essentially ‘plug and play’. This simplifies the build process, but by no means makes it trivial. To build a CubeSat, you will need:
  • Structure – essentially the skeleton of your CubeSat, giving you the shape and boundaries within which you’ll be integrating your components and turning it into an actual satellite. Structures come in various unit sizes, from as simple as 1U up to larger arrangements of 8U or more.
  • Power – a battery and power system to feed components is essential in a CubeSat. Solar panels can gather energy from the Sun and keep the battery topped up in times of lower demand.
  • Antenna – this will enable satellite communication and allow for telecommands. CubeSat antennas can’t jut out too much from the body of the satellite itself, and often need to be deployed once in orbit.
  • Onboard computers and software that runs it – though not a physical component one can cobble together, software is an essential element, holding the entire system together. CubeSat flight software gives the satellite its ability to function, essentially giving it a brain to process tasks and perform its role once out in orbit.
Other components might be necessary depending on the mission of the CubeSat, like:
  • Cameras and imagers
  • Attitude sensors and actuators
  • Propulsion
Apart from the components that will make up the CubeSat itself, you’ll also need some degree of electronic and technical knowhow, as well as a soldering iron and knowledge of how to use it. Some retailers sell ‘CubeSat kits’, which are designed to give you an easy start on building yours by including essentials like a structure and electronics to create the base.

CubeSats have nowhere to go but up (pardon the pun). The miniaturisation of technology has already seen incredible advancements in what’s possible within smaller and smaller devices, but there are still improvements to make. More powerful chips and microcomputers will help feed the future of satellite software technologies, and innovations in components can unlock new ways to control and utilise CubeSats. NASA is exploring these possibilities in depth. Its INSPIRE project is looking to prove CubeSats as capable of visiting asteroids and comets, planets like Venus, and even moons as far from us as Jupiter’s Europa. New Space competition only further fuels innovation, with new service providers likely to emerge that present methods to manage CubeSats and launch them into orbit in more affordable ways.

A CubeSat is a type of a small satellite composed of standardised sections called units. Each unit measures roughly 10cm³, hence the satellites’ name. CubeSats tend to fall under ‘nanosatellites’ in the context of satellite mass classifications, but while CubeSat satellite units may be a standard size, the spacecraft themselves are not a standard mass. As such, a CubeSat can be composed of a single unit or 16; it can weigh one kilogram or 20kg. CubeSats are commonly built using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. This means they use the same components that you can find in a variety of consumer electronics and everyday items, rather than utilising parts specifically designed and developed for each particular mission, making them more accessible for less-specialised teams and smaller budgets. Despite this, CubeSats are quickly catching up to conventional satellites in terms of capabilities for dedicated missions and even interplanetary journeys.

In theory, anybody! Even hobbyists build CubeSats using COTS components, whereas conventional satellites were previously the work of scientists and engineers working on behalf of governmental departments. Having said that, quite often the same people that previously built conventional satellites are now working on CubeSats due to their usefulness. These same convenience factors mean private companies are also building satellites to offer services and fulfil roles that were previously unfeasible. Private entities can now act as support for satellite missions, manufacture and supply CubeSat components, and offer CubeSat launch services, stoking a market that has never existed before.