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. 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 demo or trial our existing software and 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.