In this post we give a brief overview of how avionics on-board computer (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 craft’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 is an OBC?
An OBC primarily consists of a microprocessor, memory banks and interfacing chip to connect the computer to other sub-systems.
A range of standard and non-standard interface formats are in use (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.
The OBC plays 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 on-board computer for your needs
Increasing modularisation and standardisation of space technology is leading to greater options for suppliers all over the world.
In addition, the miniaturisation 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 the mission requirements and 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.
On board computers on the global market
Below you can see on-board computer systems 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.
An on-board computing platform consisting of two independent ARM Cortex-M7 modules, each with separate power supply, interfacing, and storage. The dual architecture makes the OBC-P3 highly suited for hot/cold redundancy solutions often required in mission critical sub-systems, such as T&C, GNC, or payload management. The DSP functionality provided with the Cortex-M7 architecture makes it possible to port heavy floating-point processing such as ADCS or RvD algorithms without severe performance penalties and error-prone quantization.
If redundancy is not required the OBC-P3 also provides an effective platform for combining different sub-system functionalities, such as ADCS and T&C, in a compact form-factor. By default, the OBC-P3 is configured either as an on-board data handling unit with telemetry collection functionality, or as an OS-only installation for designers to write their own application. To mitigate integration and radiation risks, the OBC-P3 uses high-quality Harwin connectors and is protected by an 1.5 mm Al enclosure.
An on-board computer suitable for nanosatellite C&DH, TT&C, mass storage and ADCS. The computer conforms to the standard CubeSat form factor and is compatible with a wide range of available CubeSat subsystems.
Supported communication busses include UART, I2C, SPI and CAN. The bus and power locations on the PC104 header are configurable to make CubeComputer compatible with most CubeSat suppliers.
A high computing power, low energy consumption, general purpose processing platform with a footprint of only 20 x 50 mm. The Linux-based operating system allows users to run various algorithms as distinct, uploadable applications, enabling almost limitless flexibility.
Using the optional storage module, users can store up to 7.5 GB of data in reliable, radiation-tolerant storage, and can optionally store over 64 GB of bulk data on 2 SD-cards. The CP400.85 contains an ARMv7-A system with a processing power of 500 MHz (~750 DMIPS).
Depending on the carrier board (supplied separately), the module can be used as a powerful payload processor, or as a general purpose on-board computer.
On-board computer products by SatRevolution
The Computing Unit is an OBC featuring a high computing power processor (up to 216 MHz) and external MRAM memory with 2MB capacity. A wide variety of interfaces are available including DCMI, SDMMC, USB and I2C. The module has a total mass of 13.5g and is compatible with PC-104 mechanical interfaces.
The Basic OBC + IMU is a basic version of the SatRevolution On-Board Computer with an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). The product is an effective CubeSat sub-system for payload control and communication with medium computing power and external MRAM memory. Featuring a main processor with 8-16MHz, 256KB FRAM, and Ultra Low-Power Modes, the product is ideal for simple scientific experiments.
The Advanced OBC is an advanced version of OBC consisting of a motherboard and 2 Computing Units with external MRAM memory (4x 2MB capacity with SRAM compatible timing). The advanced unit is an effective CubeSat sub-system for payload control and communication with high computing power. The main processor operates at 8-16MHz, 256KB FRAM, and Ultra Low-Power Modes, and the system also features an Inner Module Communications (IMC) unit.
Powered by an ARM Cortex M4/M7 processor with frequency rates of up to 180 MHz for M4 and 216 MHz for M7. Featuring high power and low mass, with a 2MB program memory size (256kB RAM for M4, 2MB RAM for M7; 2048kB flash memory). The 58g device features a wide array of connectors and integrated sensors as well as a ProtoBoard that enables rapid payload integration by simplifying access to main power and communication busses. The OBC is fully compliant with the CubeSat standard and has flight heritage.
A highly integrated small satellite main bus unit containing an on-board flight computer (OBC), ADCS, and a redundant UHF communication system (COMM). The SatBus 3C2 is tailored for small-sized spacecrafts and complies with the CubeSat standard. It has been designed to save customers’ time and budget by simplifying integration effort, improving system reliability through matched hardware, and effectively increasing volume for payload as well as overall system reliability.
The SatBus 3C2 architecture is based on an STM32 H7 series microcontroller with high-performance and low power ARM CortexTM M7 32-bit core MCU, operating at a frequency of up to 400 MHz. The same M7-core MCU performs the OBC and ADCS functions. External flash and F-RAM memories provide reliable storage for telemetry and user data and various digital interfaces for sensors and other CubeSat hardware are supported.
The Q-card OBC portfolio of Xiphos Technologies
The Xiphos Technologies Q-card portfolio features low-cost, embedded nodes for control, processing and interface applications. Q-Cards combine a small form factor with broad networking, processing and I/O capabilities. They use a hybrid environment of powerful CPUs and reprogrammable logic, designed to provide consistent, reliable performance:
The Q5 - a business card-sized system that has been operating continuously in orbit since July 2006. Featuring a Xilinx Vertex II Pro (with integral PowerPC 405 core) along with 32 or 64 Mbs SDRAM memory and 16Mbs of flash.
The Q6 - featuring a Xilinx Spartan 6, including one or more soft CPUs and optional FPUs, and with a memory capacity of 2x 128 Mbs LPDDR RAM, 2x 2Gbs MicroSD. The Q6 can be used as a standalone processor card, or in a “Q-Stack” with one or more daughtercards for end applications. The Q6 was first flown in 2011, and almost 100 units have been delivered to date for a wide range of applications.
The Q7 - the latest in the Xiphos line of spaceflight-ready miniature processing boards. The Q7 retains the small form factor, low mass and power consumption of other models while providing a significant increase in CPU performance (using Xilinx Zynq SoC, including ARM® dual-core Cortex™-A9 MPCore processors) along with various other features.
The Q7s - the space version of the Q7 featuring space-qualified software that enables enhancements such as triple-mode redundancy, EDAC-protected RAM and upset monitoring.
The MICROSATPRO and NANOSATPRO Space Qualified Processor Units by STM
STM manufactures high-performance OBC control units with high fault tolerance and processing power specifications for difficult space conditions. The computers feature an operating system running on an FPGA (soft processor-based) and are designed to quickly and easily adapt to the connection constraints of the target platform through their modular design.
Single Event Effects (SEE) protection is provided through the use of a Fault Tolerant (FT-LEON3) processor core, Triple Modular Redundancy (TMR) in FPGA, Error Detection and Correction (EDAC) in memory units, Watchdog on software, Latch-up Current Limiter (LCL) in power units. The individual products are:
MICROSATPRO - optimised for microsatellites and designed to be operational in LEO for at least 5 years. The MICROSATPRO supports the most commonly used interfaces (RS485, RS422, CAN, SpaceWire, SPI, 12C, etc.) in microsatellite platforms.
NANOSATPRO - optimised for nanosatellites and designed to be operational in LEO for at 2 two years. The NANOSATPRO supports the most commonly used interfaces (UART, RS485, CAN, SPI, I2C, etc.) in nanosatellite platforms.
The OBC portfolio of AAC Clyde Space
AAC Clyde Space manufactures a range of on-board computing systems for small- and nanosatellites. The products are:
The KRYTEN-M3 - a flight-proven OBC designed to deliver ‘always-on’ operation. A flexible system for use across multiple mission applications, incorporating a Cortex-M3 processor and innovative hardware/firmware recovery mechanisms. The highly miniaturized OBC delivers high-performance computing for demanding nanosatellite missions and is highly power-efficient, requiring <1W during operation.
Sirius OBC LEON3FT - an OBC capable of enabling advanced nanosatellite constellations in LEO and deep space exploration missions, due to its focus on reliability, resilience and performance. Fault tolerance is secured through TMR (Triple-Modular Redundancy) on all FPGA flip-flops and through boot flash and EDAC (error detection and correction) on memories. The OBC is tolerant to Single-Event-Effects (SEE) in logic/data storage and the equipment is ITAR-free. The real-time operating system runs on a LEON3FT fault tolerant soft processor and is compliant to IEEE 1754 SPARC v8, with an emphasis on enhanced error detection and correction.
Sirius TCM LEON3FT - the latest addition to AAC Clyde Space’s Sirius family of avionics equipment. This model offers increased reliability and high-performance for advanced small and nano-satellite missions. The real-time operating system runs on a LEON3FT fault-tolerant soft processor, is compliant to IEEE 1754 SPARC v8, and provides enhanced error detection and correction. Fault tolerance is secured by using triple-modular redundancy on FPGA and memory scrubbing.
A robust OBC constructed from components with extensive flight heritage and complying with selected ECSS norms. Eddie is compatible with various commercial Real-Time Operating Systems but is provided running OS and variety of software drivers. Eddie is a plug-and-play computer with a simple and intuitive setup along with radiation-tolerant storage. The OBC can fit on many different boards inside a CubeSat and Spacemanic is available to assist with integration, testing and operation.
The BBB-compliant OBC motherboard is a high-performance and low-cost processing control unit. The 47g module adheres to the PC104 standard and is able to work with many standard interfaces including I2C, UART, SPI, and Expansion Header for BBB.
The Single Board Computer Development Platform and Motherboard for Harsh Environments by Pumpkin
The Single Board Computer Development Platform is a laboratory platform designed for CubeSat development, training, testing and debugging processes. The system’s open architecture means that it is able to accept Pluggable Socketed Processor Modules (PSPMs) and Pluggable Processor Modules (PPMs) and can be used with various sensors, transceivers and sub-systems.
The Single Board Computer Motherboard for Harsh Environments is a CubeSat and nanosatellite system for general-purpose low-power computing and remote sensing for harsh environments. The system has a PC/104-size form factor and an open architecture that accepts Pluggable Processor Modules (PPMs).
Featuring an energy-efficient Cortex M4 CPU with up to 180 MHz including a hardware watchdog system and real-time clock. The GOS CubeSat OBC is made from flight proven components and has a reliable, non-volatile 8 Mb SRAM and a shielded SD chip with up to 8 Gb capacity. The OBC interfaces with many other typical components and features integrated positioning capability via a 3-axis MEMS gyroscope and accelerometer and a 3-axis magnetometer.
Based on modern COTS technologies, the IMT srl OBC features a high-performance 32-bit processor with a Microchip PIC32MZ M14K based on the MIPS™ core. The computer has a maximum operating frequency of 200MHz and includes 3 memory banks with independent anti-latch-up circuits. The RAM banks use a standard Cellular RAM™ PSRAM chip of 16MB.
A flight proven and high-performance processing unit based on an ARM9 processor with a clock speed of 400 MHz. The ISIS OBC offers many standardised interfaces including I2C, UART, ADC, JTAG and USB. In combination with the daughterboard architecture, the ISIS OBC enables the simple addition of mission-specific electronics and interfaces. Multiple OS options are available and the system includes high reliability data storage and a fail-safe filesystem.
The DSW OBC is based on a Xilinx Zynq-7000 Series SoC device. The Zynq-7000 consists of processing system (PS) and programmable logic (PL) in a single chip. Using Linux as an OS, the OBC features ECC (SEC-DED) fault protection and a Micro SD Card (< 32GB) for storage. For navigation and positioning purposes the OBC features a 3-axis digital compass and an IMU (3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis gyroscope). The system also features interfacing options for several common different formats including CAN, I2C, UART and Gigabit Ethernet.
Compact Flight Computers by Innoflight
Innoflight manufactures a range of compact flight computers to suit different applications and mission requirements:
Compact Flight Computer (CFC-300) - a flexible, general-purpose and high-performance processor uni suitable for various smallsatellite and nanosatellite spacecraft and mission requirements.
CHAMPS Flight Computer (MPSoC CFC-400) - provided with CubeSat-compatible SWaP, with an 82 mm x 82 mm enclosure and dynamically configurable performance, and with power ranging from ~0.6 W up to ~12 W. The system also supports many software environments and is provided with a rich middleware infrastructure to facilitate coordination between the high-reliability and high-performance sections of the architecture.
The CFC-500 TFLOP Flight Computer / Payload Processor - a high-performance computing unit featuring a range of interfaces that can be customized to facilitate high-performance algorithms in-orbit; such as image processing, image compression, data volume reduction, and potentially novel autonomous functions, with sensor input from high-resolution cameras, focal plane arrays (FPA), radars, and more.
Both the CHAMPS computer and the TFLOP uint have many possible applications including use as:
- a high-reliability C&DH processor,
- a high-performance payload data processor,
- a high-assurance End Cryptographic Unit (ECU) with built-in cyber protection; or
- all of the above in a single unit.
The Spaceteq OBC-GR712 is a high-reliability, low-power flight computer for low earth orbit spacecrafts. It is based on the radiation-tolerant Cobham Gaisler GR712RC processor and features secure memory devices and industry standard interfaces. The Spaceteq OBC-GR712 builds on Spaceteq’s heritage of on-board computer designs for microsatellite projects and is a core component of the EO-SAT1 satellite bus.
A compact and rugged OBC designed for signal processing and communication interfaces to the various sub-systems of CubeSats and mission critical systems; supporting a wide array of payloads.
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