Software Defined Satellites are designed to enable higher data processing power with minimal use of hardware. This article provides an introduction to and overview of Software Defined Satellites, exploring their advantages and market prospects for the future.
It also discusses ReOrbit’s Software Defined Satellite product lines, their features, and how such technologies could become key enablers for the developing global space market. It was developed in collaboration with ReOrbit, a paying participant in the satsearch membership program.
The satellite industry has undergone massive transformations in the past decade. Among the many technological developments that have occurred as a result of new innovations and evolution in the NewSpace sector, the software segment remains one of the key drivers of transformation. This process has further enhanced technological advancements in the satellite manufacturing industry, leading to the inception of the Software Defined Satellite concept.
Such systems are emerging in several different areas and with a variety of setups. In general, Software Defined Satellites are not coming to market as fully fledged, self-contained alternative platforms as a result of the greater adoption of software development in the industry. Instead there is a gradual transition towards software-defined technologies to meet both customer demand and to the need to integrate greater flexibility into satellite operations.
While several factors have led to these changes, in many ways the more common use of Software Defined Radio (SDR) technologies in satellites can be considered to be the beginning of the era of Software Defined Satellites. SDRs are satellite communications radio systems featuring software functions and protocols in an embedded hardware platform – typically consisting of a System-on-Chip (SoC) and a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) module.
The approach to integrating SDRs is now being mirrored with entire satellite systems. A number of modern industrial sectors are benefiting significantly from the exploitation of satellite-based resources. And as the use of satellite applications diversifies, the need for such resources (such as bandwidth or data transmission requirements) will vary with the changing demands of the industry. Software Defined Satellites help customers to better meet these demands and change operational capacities per mission requirements.
Customization and flexibility
Changing the configuration of a satellite in-orbit was once the distant dream of many operators, but the development of Software Defined Satellites has enabled companies to remotely reconfigure payloads using ground commands. This is bringing new capabilities, commercial applications, and risk mitigation strategies to today’s missions, in line with the evolving requirements in the downstream sector.
For example, satellite data customers can sometimes alter their demands and requirements, particularly if their businesses are undergoing a large-scale expansion or other changes. With traditional satellites, reconfiguring the payloads as per the customer demands was a barrier, but this has been overcome by the Software Defined Satellites.
Let’s take a look at three of the key characteristics of Software Defined Satellites and how they enable, or contribute to, enhanced versatility in modern missions:
The Software Defined Radio (SDR)
The SDR has the capability to communicate within the internal systems of the satellite and optimize operational efficiency with the use of minimal hardware. This adds significant value to a Software Defined Satellite as the complete system can be designed to optimize internal communication as well as provide significant processing power through the use of an SDR.
A satellite is a complex nexus of many interconnected subsystems, but what if it could operate as a single plug-and-play solution? Though the industry is yet to see the full potential of such setups ReOrbit has already brought several plug-and-play Software Defined Satellite solutions to the market.
ReOrbit currently provides three different platform solutions with software-defined architecture:
The ReOrbit Gluon Endure is a microsatellite platform optimized for high autonomy, fault tolerance and in-orbit networking. It is designed for LEO, MEO, GEO orbits and deep space missions, particularly for Earth Observation (EO) and orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) applications. The design follows a payload-agnostic approach, maximizing service availability and cost effectiveness. The Gluon family of products is scalable from 150 kg to 500 kg platforms.
The ReOrbit Gluon Explorer is a microsatellite platform optimized for high autonomy, fault tolerance and in-orbit networking. It is designed for MEO, GEO and deep space orbits, particularly for GNSS, data relays, Satcom and Earth Observation (EO) applications. The design follows a payload-agnostic approach, maximizing service availability and cost effectiveness. The Gluon family of products is scalable from 150 kg to 500 kg platforms.
The ReOrbit Gluon Lite is a microsatellite platform optimized for high autonomy, fault tolerance and in-orbit networking. It is designed for LEO orbits, particularly for Earth Observation (EO) constellations. The design follows a payload-agnostic approach, maximizing service availability and cost effectiveness. The Gluon family is scalable up to 500 kg platforms.
Plug-and-play solutions simplify setup and testing, and can also make procurement and regulatory compliance more efficient. They also give more autonomy to satellite operators.
For example, all of the platforms provided by ReOrbit feature autonomous orbit keeping, Failure Detection and Recovery (FDIR), and optical communication capabilities. These features ultimately give more benefits to operators in terms of both reliability and flexibility in various earth orbits, as well as in deep space missions.
Optimization of virtual capabilities
Software Defined Networks are gradually gaining momentum in the satellite industry. From the software domain, the ability to deploy advanced Software Defined Satellites is a promising development that network designers and operators are keeping a close eye on in the industry. The alignment of the upstream and downstream markets, in terms of software defined capabilities, standards, and conventions, can help accelerate this growth.
For example, one of the key features of Software Defined Satellite technology is remote operating capacity, which opens up new capabilities and efficiency levels for ground network operators. It will also further contribute to the virtualization of ground stations and the control of satellite configurations in the earth’s orbit.
Ultimately this can lead to more timely, useful, and valuable data acquired with fewer resources. But to better understand these opportunities, let’s take a closer look at the areas where Software Defined Satellites can have the greatest impact.
Applications and benefits
Eutelsat, SES, and Spire are some of the key players currently utilizing, or reportedly planning to take advantage of, Software Defined Satellite technologies. The interest of such established players in the market indicates the extent to which some areas of the industry are trending to software defined solutions.
Software Defined Satellites are currently viewed as the one of key enablers for operators to reconfigure their systems remotely, but in this process they can also create a massive transformation in the ground segment. This will also engage players, from the upstream to the downstream, and further strengthen the supply chain across the industry.
Satellite communications, Earth Observation (EO), Orbital Transfer Vehicles (OTV), data relay systems, and satellite navigation are some of the key market verticals and application areas in which Software Defined Satellite platforms can be of crucial importance.
Currently, the supply side of the Software Defined Satellite areas is an evolving market segment in a competitive industry. ReOrbit is one of the leading providers in this market, and is establishing itself as a versatile player by offering a range of platforms serving diverse sets of applications.
As the dependence on traditional satellites is reducing, Software Defined Satellites are likely to continue to attract greater attention in the industry.
The software segment has uplifted the development graph of the satellite industry with a range of major transformations in the upstream market. This trend is set to follow a progressive track as both established players and NewSpace companies are keeping a close eye on Software Defined Satellites technologies.
Thales is among other established companies that aims to manufacture Software Defined Satellites for SES. In addition, Airbus successfully delivered a Software Defined Satellite called Eutelsat Quantum to the French satellite operator, Eutelsat.
These are some of the handful of companies, along with NewSpace players such as ReOrbit, establishing themselves as key players in the small satellite market. The supply chain in this segment is still evolving and is likely to attract more investment in order to develop robust solutions for the upcoming high demand in the industry.
To find out more about ReOrbit and for more information on their product portfolio, please view the company’s supplier hub on satsearch.