The new space race is an agile odyssey

15th November 2019
Posted By : Anna Flockett
The new space race is an agile odyssey

Space is back in style. Literally. From new space suits for the first space tourists, to limited-edition NASA bomber jackets, the space market is seeing a renaissance of interest. And with it comes a new infusion of startups and tech revolutionising this industry. 

Guest blog written by Andreea Volosincu, Wind River.

John McHale, editorial director for Military Embedded Systems, and industry experts talk about all the different areas that are getting disrupted and what tomorrow’s space leaders should address, in the latest episodes of The New Space Race, an original podcast series from Wind River. Up for discussion this week are the new tech procurements trends and the Agile and DevOps practices that are changing design paradigms across the development, launch, and upgrade segments.

Emerging commercial space industry
Since the 1950’s, government-sponsored space programs have made great contributions to society by way of wireless communications, space exploration, military surveillance, and climate monitoring, just to name a few areas. Now, private companies are making significant inroads in the space industry and supporting a wide range of capabilities at radically lower cost.

Take for example Astranis, a manufacturer and operator of small geostationary satellites that will bring widespread broadband Internet access to the people of Alaska, where 39 percent of the population still has unreliable internet access. The satellites implement VxWorks as the safe, secure and reliable operating system for navigation and flight and LeanREL ICs from Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions. On previous episodes you’ve heard from both Tony Jordan of Cobham and Mike Deliman of Wind River how there’s a whole new class of radiation-hardened solutions designed for Low Earth orbit (LEO) at a fraction of the normal cost.

In this next episode Jeff Matthews, specialist leader on space industry, Deloitte Consulting, and Christine Stevens, Senior Director, Aerospace & Defense, Wind River, talk about how the lines between commercial, civil and government programs are starting to blur with new space opportunities. There is a push and a pull for technology innovations on both sides, and the major players have evolved to create a diverse ecosystem that has propped up to provide new solutions to procurement and cost challenges.

The last episode has Tim Deaver, Director U.S. Space Systems, Airbus Defense and Space, and Mike Deliman, Real-Time and Middleware Instructor, Wind River, discussing about digital twins and agile practices that have an impact on rapid fielding and prototyping capabilities. This episode covers how agile development is aiding the development of new satellite programs.

Series takeaways – technological leaps
Throughout this series we’ve seen how investments in satellite and space technology are growing not only in commercial markets, but in military and civil ones as well. The landscape is changing with the emergence of new business models and technological leaps, such as:

1.   Low-cost commercial launches: Over the last six years, SpaceX and other companies have offered lower-cost launch capabilities for commercial companies to exploit. “This commercialisation really drives down the cost of getting into space and makes it very attractive for companies, such as Google, to consider putting up a satellite with a few thousand systems in order to sell Internet connectivity and other services,” said Alex Wilson, director of business development for aerospace and defense at Wind River.

2.   New wireless communication technologies: The commercial satellite market is helping those who don’t have good data communication, Internet, or voice communication services, whether on the ocean, in a self-driving car, or in rural areas. Much of the recent focus has been on 5G deployments, and recently two dozen or so nanosatellite startups, including Astrocast, Hiber, and Swarm, have entered this market, joining established satellite communications companies such as Iridium, GlobalStar, and ORBCOMM.

3.   Artificial intelligence: Companies sending up constellations of satellites will expect them to be autonomous, capable of high levels of inferencing and decision-making. For instance, a product manufacturer selling its products in several different stores may want to know the foot traffic for each store on a Saturday afternoon. Instead of having analysts pour over parking lot photos, the manufacturer could ask the constellation to monitor the number of cars in each store’s parking lot and report which store is doing better,” said Tony Jordan, senior director of business development for Cobham Semiconductor and Space Solutions.

4.   Space as a service: Software will allow for further commoditisation of satellites in orbit. Depending on how users need evolve, one day a satellite will be able to perform mission A, and, using a software-defined OS, the next day it would be able to perform mission B. This is a primary driver for driving cost down even further as companies that are not players in the space arena can still access and brand data coming from a constellation of SmallSats for example. We see this happening already in services around remote sensing data as a service, ground as a service, space as a service, and operations as a service.

Series takeaways – software design challenges
In order to support the developing business models and technologies of the new space age, system designers need to ensure their software runs deterministically and can be certified in a timely fashion, two areas in which Wind River can help:

Deliver real-time performance
Real-time performance is critical for satellites and digitally-connected spacecraft that require deterministic and low latency performance. Satisfying these stringent requirements, the Wind River software platforms have helped launch dozens of missions and space programs.

Demonstrate rapid and responsive launch capabilities
From a development perspective, systems that support an agile approach, which allows you to develop, test, and make changes as the program matures, are important. This shrinks feedback loops from days or hours to minutes. For example, Wind River used Simics for DevOps to achieve a faster software delivery rate (440X). How important is a software-defined approach? Only this year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) set up another challenge, the “DARPA Launch Challenge”, giving chosen companies $400K to compete and show these capabilities.

Streamline certification
Using certification-ready software can significantly reduce the effort and cost to certify safety-critical space systems. As such, Wind River platforms come with a wide range of certification packages, including DO-178C DAL A/ED-12C.

Courtesy of Wind River.


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