Satellite OBC (on board computer) systems play a number of very important roles in any space system.
In this post we give a brief overview of how satellite OBC systems operate and share listings of OBCs on the global marketplace – if you would like to skip the introductory material and instead get straight to the product listings, please click here.
A satellite or spacecraft is made up of many different sub-systems that all need to work together as an integrated system. Avionic architectures have a key role in making this possible, linking together modules and equipment from different manufacturers and with varying functionality so that the entire craft can be managed and operated effectively.
One of the core components of the avionics system is the on board computer (OBC) – the piece of hardware that runs the system’s on-board software, which controls the vital functions the system needs in order to perform effectively.
In this article we took a brief look at the role OBCs play in a satellite or spacecraft and present several products available on the global space marketplace.
What are on board computers?
On modern satellites there are a number of systems that can essentially provide computing power (including payload processors and edge computing hardware for example), the term on board computer typically applies to the computer of the satellite’s avionic sub-system.
The satellite OBC is the unit that runs the satellite’s on-board software i.e. the computer programs that manage the core functions of the system. They are often referred to as the brain of the satellite and selecting this sub-system is one of the most important tasks of any mission designer.
A satellite OBC is typically divided into 3 distinct subsystems
- The electronics subsystem – which provides protection from the effects of radiation, magnetic forces, and noise interference.
- The interface subsystem – which collects power supplied by the electrical power system (EPS) and manages communication with other modules on board.
- The microcontroller – the processing unit, dedicated to Satellite Management (SM). It manages data from other systems (collected via the interface) and gives commands. It also stores measurements, logs, and other system data.
A range of standard and non-standard interface formats are in use in OBCs today (e.g. RS485, CAN, SpaceWire, SPI and I2C) and the OBC itself can be provided as an integrated unit in the satellite bus and avionics system, or as a modular device capable of working with various other pieces of multi-vendor equipment.
On board computers play several roles in the effective operation of a spacecraft or satellite. These functions usually include:
- Attitude and orbit control,
- Telemetry data management,
- Telecommunication actions,
- System housekeeping,
- On-board time synchronisation, and
- Failure detection, isolation and recovery.
Selecting the right satellite OBC for your needs
Increasing modularization and standardization of space technology is leading to greater options for suppliers all over the world. In addition, the miniaturization of electronic components are making it possible to develop new hardware concepts for space missions.
With this greater choice available, engineers need to ensure they select the best option for their specific mission requirements from the array of on board computers on the global market.
To assist, we recommend considering the following key performance criteria when making a decision:
Processing capability – the computing unit must be able to handle the processing capacity needed to operate the payload and the sub-systems supporting it (e.g. attitude control, communication, power distribution, etc.).
Memory (storage and RAM) – both the capacity and memory format should be chosen to meet your needs. An OBC typically includes both volatile and non-volatile memories with differing capacities.
Interoperability and interfacing capabilities – as a central controlling unit it is vital that the OBC can work effectively with the required interfaces (e.g. USB, I2C etc.) and has enough capacity and ports for the external sub-systems it will connect to.
Reliability of software – the OBC needs to have reliable software running on it in order to be able handle event sequencing, monitor health and performance of all systems, and handle any problems on orbit.
Power requirements – although OBC power requirements are generally low compared to other sub-systems, it is important to factor in what power is needed to your overall calculations.
Size and weight – the system you choose needs to fit into your current mass and volume budget to avoid more extensive redesigns.
Satellite OBC products on the global market
Below you can see on board computers from multiple suppliers all over the world.
Please note that this list will be updated when new products are added to the global marketplace for space – so please check back for more or sign up for our mailing list to get all the updates.
You can click on any of the links or images below to find out more about each of the products. You can also submit a request for information (RFI) on the product pages or send us a general query using our RFI tool to discuss your specific needs, and we will use our global networks of suppliers to find a system to meet your specifications.
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Designed for satellite constellations in LEO and deep space exploration missions, the 130g Sirius OBC LEON3FT is based on a 50 MHz LEON3FT fault-tolerant soft processor with the RTEMS real-time operating system (RTOS), compliant to IEEE 1754 SPARCv8. The system features 1.3 W power consumption.
A 130g OBC with 10 kRAD radiation tolerance and RTEMS real-time operating system that runs on a 50 MHz LEON3FT fault-tolerant soft processor, compliant to IEEE 1754 SPARC v8. The system has a power rating of 1.3 W & fault tolerance secured via triple-modular redundancy on FPGA and memory scrubbing.
A processing platform with a Linux-based operating system that allows users to run various algorithms as distinct, uploadable applications. Using the optional, radiation-tolerant, storage module users can store up to 7.5 Gb of data, and can optionally store over 64 GB of bulk data on 2 SD cards.
The Alén Space TRISKEL - CubeSat OBC + TTC + OBSW Solution is an on-board computer, telemetry, tracking, and command hardware, and on-board software system for CubeSats. TRISKEL is a plug-and-play system featuring 'always-on' operation and 'no-code' development.
The COSATS COSOBC is an Onboard Computer designed to use in microsatellite and nanosatellite missions. It can operate in temperatures ranging from -20°C to 50°C and has a power consumption rate of less than or equal to 500 mW. The COSOBC has a dual-core ARM processor with a floating point processing unit (FPU), a memory management unit, and a real-time clock (RTC). It also consists of a three-axis gyroscope, magnetometer, ADC, and other peripherals.
The EnduroSat Onboard Computer is a flight-proven OBC system with ARM Cortex M4/M7 processor of frequency rates up to 180 MHz and 216 MHz respectively. The system also features program memory, a wide array of integrated sensors and connectors, and ProtoBoard. The ProtoBoard simplifies access to main power and communications thus enabling a rapid payload integration. The system satisfies the CubeSat standards.
The Endurosat Onboard Computer is flight-proven OBC integrated with GNSS receiver. The product is radiation-tested and has a lifetime up to 5 years in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The OBC is used for secure data handling and operations, avionics and GNC, and payload operations.
The OBC combines a Telemetry, Tracking & Command (TT&C) module & a Data Processing Unit (DPU). The TT&C unit features a TMS570 Hercules microcontroller, including a dual 300 MHz ARM Cortex-R5F with FPU in lock-step. The DPU is equipped with a Zynq UltraScale+ MPSoC including FPGA for customization.
The SkyLabs NANOobc-2 is an onboard computer with fault tolerance powered by PicoSkyFT processor for space applications. The NANOobc-2 is second generation of the flight proven OBC of SkyLabs. The fault tolerance of the system by design offers higher reliability and robustness against Single Event Effects (SEE).
The SkyLabs NANOhpm-obc is an onboard computer with RISC-V architecture, fault tolerant NOEL-V processor and flexbile SoC design for LEO applications. The system is designed to be versatile with variety of resources and interfaces. The NANOhpm-obc is designed for more processing power basing on the NANOobc architecture that has achieved flight heritage.
Spacemanic's Eddie - the On-board Computer - is a Cubesat OBC module suitable for nano-satellite C&DH, TT&C, mass storage, and ADSC. The system is made from components with extensive flight heritage on several space missions and complies with selected ECSS norms.
Spacemanic's Deep Thought - the On-board Computer - is a high-power CubeSat OBC module suitable for nanosatellite C&DH, TT&C, mass storage, and ADCS. The radiation-tolerant, plug-and-play system is compatible with a wide range of CubeSat components from third-party vendors as well as typical CubeSat standards.
The Micro Satellite Processor Unit (MICROSATPRO) is an OBC compatible with microsatellite platforms. It is a control unit that has high fault tolerance and processing power specifications for difficult space conditions.
The Nano-Satellite Processor Unit (NANOSATPRO) is an OBC compatible with nanosatellite platforms for advanced space missions. It has an operating system running on an FPGA (soft processor-based) and supports the most common interfaces (UART, RS485, CAN, SPI, I2C, etc.).
The Unibap iX5100 is a SpaceCloud® computer solution featuring an embedded, x86-compatible, and AMD® G-series SOC product from the 1st, 2nd, & LX families. The SOC is paired with a powerful Microsemi® SmartFusion2™ FPGA, which provides IO extension and board supervisory management.
A 32g (with RJ45 connector) system, with typical power of 1W, based on a hybrid environment of CPUs and reprogrammable logic. The Q7 is a flight-proven processor board based on the Xilinx Zynq-7020, including ARM dual-core Cortex-A9 MPCore processors supported by programmable logic resources.
A 24g (without RJ45 connector) system, with typical power of 1W. The Q7S consists of a Q7 card equipped with space-ready software and firmware based on a hybrid environment of CPUs and reprogrammable logic. The library of logic and software functions is augmented by onboard analog and digital I/O.
A 64g (with power barrel & RJ45) system based on a hybrid environment of multi-core CPUs and reprogrammable logic. The Q8 includes a Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ Multi-Processor System-on-Chip (MPSoC) Processing FPGA & memory resources such as LPDDR4 RAM (with EDAC), 2x QSPI Flash (NOR), and 2x eMMC.
A 56g (without power barrel & RJ45) system with > 25 krad radiation tolerance. The Q8S consists of a Q8 card equipped with space-ready software and firmware based on a hybrid environment of CPUs and reprogrammable logic. The library of logic and software functions is augmented by onboard digital I/O.
The Q8J extends the capability of the Xiphos Q8 processor, adding support for high speed JESD204B interfaces and access to external DDR3 or DDR4 memory. Suitable for SDR applications, the Q8J is delivered with a detachable PIM with standard interfaces, debug LEDs & other lab development features.
The Q8JS extends the capability of the Xiphos Q8 card with support for high speed JESD204B interfaces and access to external DDR3 or DDR4 memory. Suitable for SDR applications, the Q8JS consists of a Q8J card equipped with space-ready software and firmware plus a library of logic functions.
The Airbus ICDE-NG (Integrated Control and Data Equipment - Next Generation) is an on-board computer designed for multipurpose applications in LEO, MEO, and GEO. It consists ERC32 processor module with high memory capacity and has a military standard (MIL-STD) 1553B interface running at 1MHz. ICDE-NG also has an optional GPS receiver module for LEO, MEO, and GEO missions. The product weighs 13.6 kgs and has a maximum power consumption rate of 35 Watts.
The Airbus PureLine Amethyst is a compact and lightweight on-board computer designed for LEO missions. Some of its key features include an interface to attitude and orbit control system (AOCS) for sensors, actuators, magnetorquers, and solar array step motors as well as software time and space partitioning capability. The product weighs 3.5 kgs and has a power consumption rate between 20 and 50 Watts.
The Airbus Spacecraft Controller on a Chip (SCOC3) is a single-chip computer based on LEON3FT Sparc V8 32 bits processor designed for LEO, MEO, and GEO satellite missions. It consists of dual AMBA-AHB bus architecture with CPU and IO that is bus able to operate at different frequencies. The product weighs 12 grams and has a power consumption rate of 1 Watt at 32 MHz and 1.9 Watts 80 MHz.
The Airbus OSCAR is a flight proven on-board computer designed for satellite missions. It is based on LEON3-FT processor and has two redundant military standard (MIL-STD) 1553B bus. It consists two Space Wire links and has two processor boards as well as two DC/DC converter boards with 1500 fits per channel. The product weighs 5 kgs and has a maximum power consumption rate of 15 Watts.
The Aitech SP0 is a space-qualified Radiation Tolerant 3U CompactPCI single-board computer (SBC) designed for LEO, MEO, and GEO missions. It consists of three on-board temperature sensors and has successfully undergone radiation testing at the target of 100 kRad (Si).
The Aitech S950 is a Radiation Tolerant 3U CompactPCI single-board computer (SBC) designed for LEO, GEO, and Mars mission. The SBC is based on NXP's PowerPC 750GX processor. It can be used in numerous mission critical systems operating in harsh environments.
The ArsUltra LEON3 On Board Computer (OBC) is a rad-hard CPU board with a dual-core Leon3-FT SPARC V8 compliant 32-bit processor.
The ArsUltra Fly Angela is a CubeSat On Board Computer (OBC) with an integrated accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and temperature sensors. With Automotive grade chips used in power and memory components and PC104-PLUS format, it is ideal for CubeSat applications. The subsystem has CAN, SPI, I2C, RS422/RS485, GPIO, and also optional SpaceWire.
The ArsUltra OpenVpx is an ITAR-free LEON3 Fault Tolerant CPU for Space Applications. The enclosure was developed compliant with the Open VPX standard, ANSI / VITA 46,48 & 65. It is designed with the 3U form factor with conduction cooling for heat dissipation.
The RAD5545™ SpaceVPX single-board computer (SBC) integrates a version 1.2 RAD5545 system-on-chip (SoC) processor, with volatile & non-volatile memory, on a 6U-220 format module, compliant to the ANSI/VITA 78.00 SpaceVPX standard. Can operate as payload or system controller in a SpaceVPX backplane.
A LEON-3FT (Dual Core) processor with interfaces to connect the AOCS, payload sub-system, and power sub-system, including SpaceWire and CAN. Featuring FPGA capability for customization, along with full-redundant architecture with 2 CPU boards, 2 IO boards and 2 power boards in Europe-Card format.
The Erems ELISE - On-board Computer (OBC) is a high-performance compact unit designed for CubeSats and nanosats. The product is ITAR-free and covers three functions; the processing unit, mass memory unit, and AOCS hardware. It has interfaces for X-band and S-band modems and consists of three magnetorquers with current regulated drivers.
Designed to offer a versatile, general-purpose processor solution for smallsats and nanosatellites. The system features a Xilinx Zynq System-on-Chip (SoC) device with an integrated ARM Cortex-A9 dual-core processor and can be provided with FPGA fabric for customer use.
CHAMPS is provided with CubeSat-compatible SWaP, with an 82 mm x 82 mm enclosure and dynamically configurable performance with power ranging from ~0.6 W up to ~12 W. The system features a Xilinx MPSoC device with an ARM Cortex-A53 quad-core APU at up to 1 GHz.
Innoflight’s Trillion FLoating-point Operations Per second (TFLOP) computer is designed for LEO operations and includes an ARM Cortex-A15 (up to 2.32 GHz) processor and a Xilinx Ultrascale+ FPGA system. It also features a scalable number of GPU hardware accelerators.
An OBC with a general-purpose hardware platform, suited for a range of satellite and CubeSat missions. It features a MSP430 (EP series) microcontroller and a Spartan-3E FPGA, organized in independent but cooperative cores, designed to provide hardware redundancy and common mode fault tolerance.
A 60g (without heat sink) compute platform for single- and double-precision operations, compatible with nanosatellites. Featuring < 1 TFLOPs processor performance, the system is based on Xilinx Ultrascale+ MPSoCs with dual-core ARM cortex A53 and R5 64-bit processing cores, and LPDDR4 memory.
A 60g (without heat sink) compute platform for single- and double-precision operations, compatible with nanosatellites. Featuring 1 to 5 TFLOPS processor performance, the system is based on Xilinx Ultrascale+ MPSoCs with dual-core ARM cortex A53 and R5 64-bit processing cores, and LPDDR4 memory.
An 80g (without heat sink) compute platform for single- and double-precision operations, compatible with nanosatellites. Featuring 3 to 15 TFLOPS processor performance, the system is based on Xilinx Ultrascale+ MPSoCs with dual-core ARM cortex A53 and R5 64-bit processing cores, and LPDDR4 memory.
The Medusa Single Board Computer (SBC) is SEAKR’s fourth iteration of the PowerQUICC®-III high performance PowerPC Single Board Computer (SBC) product line. It features a PowerPC® e500 core delivering 2450 DMIPS @ 1.066 GHz, and is suitable for a variety of mission applications.
Designed for the radiation environment of NASA’s Multiscale Magnetospheric Mission, the ZIN Technologies Single Board Computer (SBC) is based on a Leon3FT processor and is capable of 30 DMIPS and 4MFLOPS. Includes Actel RTAX FPGAs and can be customized with additional interfaces and memory.
Thanks for reading! If you would like any further help identifying on board computers for your specific needs, please file a request on our platform and we’ll use our global network of suppliers to find an option.
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Resources and further reading
- How to choose a satellite on-board computer (OBC)
- Advancing the use of FPGA-based OBCs in space
- On board computers – resource by ESA
- A guide to Command and Data Handling (CDH) systems for space missions
- On-board data processing for next-generation satellites
- The key role of an on-board computer in a CubeSat mission
- Space grade FPGA-based OBCs and payload processors
- Telemetry microcomputer application in satellites OBC