Benefits of Software-First Satellite Design

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Benefits of Software-First Satellite Design

The global space sector is experiencing exceptionally strong growth driven by new supply and demand drivers, disruptive innovations and transformational business models. In a more open, competitive and collaborative environment, digital technologies have emerged as an essential growth lever for the space industry, as per other major industries, such as automotive and aeronautics. Hardware has become increasingly commoditised and less differentiated, with the focus being shifted to software.

As we navigate this transformation, adopting a software-first approach to satellite architecture presents numerous benefits. Notably, these benefits enhance the efficiency, adaptability, responsiveness and sustainability of space missions to come. Read on to find out how.

Maximising efficiency in space with software-first architecture

Satellites have traditionally been operated manually, but the advent of constellations requiring real-time management, coupled with interconnected satellites and terrestrial networks, is transforming satellite operations. Human-intensive tasks like surveillance and manoeuvre decision-making are increasingly being automated by Artificial Intelligence (AI), enhancing precision and speed while reducing human interaction. AI and onboard processing are essential for reducing telemetry, tracking, and command operations, which is particularly important in constellation architectures. These technologies enable almost fully automated management of constellations, leading to greater efficiency, improved lead times, and reduced costs. With advances in machine learning and AI, satellites will not only be able to run their daily operation and process their own health check but also to predict future trends, including self-diagnosis of failures, and act accordingly to avoid them. Furthermore, the modularisation of space systems through a software-first approach and the use of generic components enhances interchangeability and higher volume production. This is especially true for the payload modules, which stand as the most expensive element of the system.

Enhancing mission adaptability with in-orbit reconfigurability

Adapting satellite missions to evolving customer and market needs is vital in today's uncertain environment, especially for low-latency applications that benefit from reduced processing costs. Software-first satellites can be reconfigured in orbit, enabling changes in the mission over time to meet evolving customer demands. Earth Observation (EO) data processed on the ground after receiving gigabits of data from satellites can be optimised by automated onboard processing, which pre-selects relevant images. Take for instance our EO satellite, Gluon EO. Not only does it offer sub-meter imaging capabilities boosted with AI analytics onboard but also in-orbit reconfigurability enabling optimal performance throughout the satellite’s operational lifespan.

In satellite communications, parameters such as coverage, power, and frequency bands can be modified via onboard processing and active antennas with beam-forming capability, leading to competitive costs per bit and potentially higher fill rates by enabling supply to be tailored to take on specific demand opportunities in terms of regions and applications. Ultimately, software-first satellites are perfectly fit to interact with software-defined networks with an end-to-end software-enabled and optimised system, in both space and on the ground segment, enabling full adaptability and capacity management in both areas.

Accelerating responsiveness with real-time data processing

The capacity of satellites to acquire data often exceeds their downlink capacity. Edge computing, which brings processing operations closer to data acquisition, mitigates this bottleneck. By initiating data processing in orbit, satellites can improve efficiency by taking advantage of the "dead time" between downlink opportunities, thus enhancing responsiveness for the most time-sensitive applications. AI and machine learning algorithms on board satellites reduce the need for ground communication, freeing up bandwidth and minimising latency—critical for autonomous mobility and navigation applications. This approach also reduces the volume of data sent to processing centers all while minimising risks associated with data transfers.

Our Small SatCom satellite operates in geostationary orbit and features optical communication capability and high throughput beams. It is designed to be responsive and versatile, catering to various applications such as mobility, cellular backhaul, and more. Small SatCom ensures sovereign capabilities by offering network ownership and real-time data processing, effectively reducing latency and meeting time-critical needs.

Ensuring sustainable and future-proof space missions

With more than 24,500 satellites to be launched during the decade, the number of space debris will rise exponentially generating significant risks of in-orbit collisions and forcing satellite operators to undertake difficult manoeuvres to protect their in-orbit assets. Currently, these procedures are challenging to automate and involve complicated decision-making. The extensive deployment of constellations intensifies this complexity, making individual asset risk management impossible. AI and Machine Learning will be integral to a sophisticated global space traffic management framework, facilitating automated collision avoidance and in-orbit fleet management, thereby reducing collision risks and contributing to a safer space environment. Additionally, software-enabled satellites can be reconfigured after orbital events like space weather, delaying obsolescence and extending their operational lifetime, thus reducing the frequency of replacements.

Laying the groundwork for intelligent satellite networks

Space is rapidly evolving into an interconnected, data-driven domain, yet our current systems still resemble pre-internet hardware in many respects. While significant advancements have been made, there is still a pressing need for enhanced network and security protocols, in-orbit data storage solutions, and virtualisation capabilities. The incorporation of AI and software-driven systems in satellite technology marks a major step towards more efficient, adaptable, responsive, and sustainable space operations. However, the fundamental lesson is that the cornerstone of truly intelligent satellite networks lies in adopting a software-first architecture.

At ReOrbit, we are at the forefront of this transformation, pioneering software-first satellite solutions that embody these principles. To explore our software-first satellite solutions including Gluon EO and Small SatCom please visit our product page.



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