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A Software Framework for Nanosatellites based on CCSDS Mission Operations Services with Reference Implementation for ESA's OPS-SAT Mission

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Traditional European space missions exchange information with spacecraft using an old packet-based standard from 1994, in an era where mobile phones had the size of a brick and the internet was nearly born. Since then, many innovations appeared in the field of information and communications technologies that shaped the way one exchanges information on earth. For example, the rising market of smartphones and tablets brought new ideas into software by providing quick development of applications by taking advantage of software frameworks. In contrast, on-board computers still have simple monolithic software architectures with little reuse due to the low processing capabilities of current on-board computers. However, new and more advanced on-board computers are starting to be commercialized specifically for nanosatellites. Nanosatellites are small satellites that became increasingly more popular for the past 5 years because they are cheaper to launch without compromising a lot of functionality. The first nanosatellite mission from ESOC is OPS-SAT, a mission open to worldwide experimenters that can try new mission operation concepts and ideas. The Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) recently defined a service-oriented architecture for mission operations of space assets, known as CCSDS Mission Operations services, which is intended to fly for the first time in OPS-SAT. The research defines the NanoSat MO Framework, a software framework for nanosatellites based on CCSDS Mission Operations services, including its reference implementation. Additionally, there is a Software Development Kit (SDK) in order to facilitate the development of software based on the NanoSat MO Framework. OPS-SAT experimenters can use this SDK for quick development of software capable of running on ground and/or in space. Although the reference implementation of the NanoSat MO Framework is generic to any nanosatellite mission, a dedicated mission implementation for OPS-SAT was developed. A dedicated Flatsat was built, which allows functional verification and validation of the software with the real hardware on a flat surface. In addition, its performance was analysed and improved where needed. A bright outlook is envisioned for the NanoSat MO Framework.
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... The -Sat-2 mission will take advantage of the latest research for mission operations of CubeSats and use the NanoSat MO Framework [11], a framework for small satellites that allows software to be deployed in space as simple Apps, in a similar fashion to Android and iOS apps. This framework, was developed through ESA research and development, and demonstrated in ESA's OPS-SAT mission, supports on-board Apps upload/upgrade and orchestration. ...
... This mission would be, in essence, a Constellation-as-a-Service capable of deploying AI Apps over certain areas of the world based on different criteria. [11] ...
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Following the success of the first Phi-Sat mission, in 2020, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the opportunity to present CubeSat-based ideas for the Phi-Sat-2 mission as part of its initiative to promote the development of radically innovative technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities onboard Earth Observation (EO) missions. Open Cosmos and CGI submitted a joint proposal for the Phi-Sat-2 mission idea, which takes advantage of the latest research and developments in the European ecosystem. The proposed mission idea is a game-changing EO CubeSat capable of running AI Apps that can be developed, easily deployed on the spacecraft and updated during flight operations. The AI Apps can be operated from ground using a simple user interface. This approach allows continuous improvement of the AI model parameters using the very same images acquired by the satellite. The mission takes advantage of the latest research for mission operations of CubeSats and use the NanoSat MO Framework, a framework for small satellites that allows software to be deployed in space as simple Apps, in a similar fashion to Android apps. This framework was previously demonstrated in ESA’s OPS-SAT mission, and supports the orchestration of on-board Apps. It fully decouples the App features from the underlying on-board hardware via an abstraction layer API in the form of services. Additionally, it includes a Software Development Kit with demo Apps, development tools, and tutorials to facilitate the development of Apps. By decoupling the data platform from the Apps, it is possible to distribute the development of specialized AI Apps to different partners within the Phi-Sat-2 mission consortium. The mission will include a set of default AI Apps that will be able to do vessel detection, high compression of images, and roadmap transformation from satellite imagery. The framework allows more than just the set of default Apps and so, third-party Apps can be included on later stages of the mission lifecycle. This paper will present the NanoSat MO Framework, introduce the AI Apps that are part of the Phi-Sat-2 mission, and how the free and open-source framework enables the creation of software-defined satellite missions via on-board Apps.
... The core components and APIs are defined as a set of "composites" that the applications can reuse and infer. The build products are deployed across the two segments: Ground and Space [12,13,14]. ...
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OPS-SAT is a 3U CubeSat launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) on December 18, 2019. It is the first nanosatellite to be directly owned and operated by ESA. The spacecraft is a flying platform that is easily accessible to European industry, institutions, and individuals enabling rapid prototyping, testing, and validation of their software and firmware experiments in space at no cost and no bureaucracy. Conceived to break the "has not flown, will not fly" cycle, OPS-SAT has spearheaded many firsts in both space and ground segments. For instance, its uplink rate is four times higher than any ESA spacecraft; it employs never before flown communication protocols, and it implements new ESA patents. Proven and standard approaches to space operations are difficult to break away from in a sector that epitomizes risk-averseness. This is particularly true with how packet telemetry and telecommand are addressed using the Packet Utilization Standard (PUS). OPS-SAT has set aside PUS in favor of a standard that is currently being defined by the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), that is, MO Services and the File Delivery Protocol (CFDP)'s file-based operations. OPS-SAT is the first in-orbit demonstration of fully MO-based on-board software and ground implementations. With over 220 experiment proposals submitted, a robust file transfer and management system greatly reduces the complexity and cost of operating multiple on-board software instances that must reliably deliver results back to experimenters. This paper details the design, implementation, and operations of the MO Services and CFDP on OPS-SAT. It presents the benefits of developing, deploying, and maintaining the MO/MAL ground infrastructure with OPS-SAT as a case study. Lessons learned as well as recommendations from the spacecraft's flight-proven experience in adopting and operationalizing the standard are presented as invaluable feedback for future missions as well as for CCSDS ongoing development of the standard.
... Other concepts like software portability and rigorous software design are also present in the current related work and have been a topic of discussion because of the recent rise of CubeSats deployment. Coelho [19] present the NANOSat MO Framework, which is a standard onboard software framework for nanosatellites that has been implemented in ESA's OPS-SAT mission. This work is based on the CCSDS MO framework and relies on the portability concept to maximixe reuse and customizations between different missions and user needs, with a modular and flexible design. ...
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The success of the CubeSats space missions depends on the ability of performing properly in a harsh environment. A key component in space missions is the flight software, which manages all of the processes executed by the satellite on its onboard computer. Literature shows that CubeSat missions suffer high infant mortality, and many spacecraft failures are related to flight software errors, some of them resulting in complete mission loss. Extensive operation testing is the primary technique used by CubeSats developers to ensure flight software quality and avoid such failures. The “New Space” requirements pressure to add “agility” to the software development, which could limit the capacity to test. While advanced and beneficial software testing techniques are found in the software engineering field, CubeSat software solutions mostly rely on unit testing, SILS and HILS. In this work fuzz testing techniques were developed, implemented and evaluated as a manner to expedite operational testing of CubeSats while maintaining their completeness. The impact of the tools were evaluated by using the three new 3U CubeSats under development at the University of Chile. We identified twelve bugs not covered by classic testing strategies, in less than three days. These failures were reported, fixed and characterized by the developers in eight sprint sessions. Our results indicate that fuzz testing improved the completeness of flight software testing through automation and with almost non development interruption. Although our approach have been tested on the SUCHAI flight software, it is applicable to systems that follow a similar architecture.
... The projects often take at least several years to complete, and produce a high ratio of documentation to implemented software [81]. Reusability of software from one mission to the next can be poor [82]. Small satellite projects, due to their shorter development schedules and low-cost approach, tend to be more receptive to agile development processes [83]. ...
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Small satellites and nanosatellites are currently a topic of interest in academia and industry. Their increasing capabilities enable them to execute tasks previously handled by conventional satellites, and their low cost allows deploying constellations of hundreds or even thousands of small satellites, allowing them to accomplish objectives not previously feasible. Such constellations could provide global satellite internet, perform remote sensing at a high temporal resolution, and monitor shipping and air traffic globally in real-time. Low-cost nanosatellites are also useful educational tools for training spacecraft engineers, and for performing in-orbit technology demonstrations. This dissertation aims to identify and evaluate useful technologies and practices for developing low-cost nanosatellite missions. Some of the approaches have been demonstrated in flight during the Aalto-1 nanosatellite mission, and others have been demonstrated with simulations. Existing literature is also reviewed to evaluate the considered technologies and approaches. Key defining features of small satellites and nanosatellites have been identified from literature, and new approaches for those features are proposed. In this work, a method for deploying nanosatellites to several orbital planes using atmospheric drag is proposed. Component selection for educational nanosatellites is considered, and the method used in Aalto-1 is presented. The autonomous navigation solution of Aalto-1 is described. Benefits and drawbacks of Linux use on-board spacecraft are considered, and results from Aalto-1 are discussed. Ways of combining project management and education in a student satellite project are also studied, and results from Aalto-1 are presented.
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Traditional European space missions exchange information with spacecraft using an old packet-based standard from 1994, in an era where mobile phones were the size of a brick and the internet was only just being born. Since then, many innovations appeared in the field of information and communications technologies that shaped the way one exchanges information on earth. The NanoSat MO Framework (NMF) intends to change the current view on on-board software by introducing "apps" in space that can be easily developed, debugged, tested, deployed and updated at any time. Furthermore, the same "app" can be used on different nanosatellite platforms. The NMF builds on top of the Mission Operations (MO) services architecture from the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), which allows the specification of services for mission operations of space assets. A new set of Platform services to interact with the platform devices have been defined, and they were specified in a platform-independent manner, that are generic enough to support devices that share the same functionality but have different low-level interfaces, for example, two GPS units from different vendors. This is achieved by having different backend adapters for the two different units while keeping the same GPS service frontend. OPS-SAT mission will allow worldwide experimenters to seamlessly develop their experiments in form of NMF apps by abstracting them from the low-level implementation details of the satellite platform. A lightweight software simulator mimicking OPS-SAT's peripherals was implemented and plugged into the Platform services in order to allow any developer to directly test their app in a playground environment. This will give some degree of confidence before packaging it and sending it to the spacecraft. The simulator is part of the NMF Software Development Kit.
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The rising market of smartphones and tablets brought new ideas into software by providing quick development of software using well defined libraries from Android and iOS. Additionally, Android gave the community an extra degree of freedom by making their mobile apps, portable entities of software where the same app can run on the hardware of different vendors as long as the devices have the same underlying Android framework. Comparatively, the NanoSat MO Framework (NMF) based on CCSDS Mission Operations (MO) services intends to change the current view on On-Board Software (OBSW) by turning it into flexible “apps” that can be easily developed, debugged, tested, deployed and updated at any time without causing any major problem to the spacecraft. Furthermore, it will be possible to use the same “app” on different nanosatellite platforms as long as the NMF components are used. This means that an app developed using NMF’s Software Development Kit (SDK) will be able to, for example, publish telemetry, receive telecommands or acquire the latest GPS position on different nanosatellites without any change in the code. It shall be used for the first time in the context of the ESA OPS-SAT mission in order to allow its experimenters to seamlessly develop their experiments in form of a NMF app without the need of understanding the low-level implementation details of the satellite platform. Software management is a key element that should not be underestimated on a framework intended run multiple apps. Installing, uninstalling, updating packages and starting, stopping, killing apps can define the behavior of the spacecraft and thus the NMF encompasses well-defined interfaces for software management. A new mind-set is introduced in this paper and a different approach compared to today’s OBSW monolithic view is presented, making the following question arise: “How will space software look like in 20 years from now?”
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