NOVA Mission: Risk Mitigation, Part I

Space missions of all kinds have been lost because of software errors, including those engineered by experienced teams from the largest space agencies in the world; well-funded interplanetary probes such as ESA’s Schiaparelli and NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter are but two examples.

Much smaller teams with intentions of launching a CubeSat will have to deal with the same degree of space environment challenges, plus many additional risks originating from allowing an amateur user to run code on a satellite’s onboard computer.  Therefore, it is important to describe what risks we are going to face, and the preventive measures we are going to take to optimise the odds of mission success. They can be roughly grouped into mission risks and business risks. Firstly, we will talk about mission-specific risks and their mitigation. 

Mission Risks

Running code written by people without extensive prior experience in space software development is the largest challenge we face in developing a mission of this kind, in addition to the usual risks that come with CubeSat development.

…and Possible Countermeasures

The core concept of our solution is the implementation of multiple layers of software and hardware guards as well as operational procedures, forming a defence-in-depth strategy to reduce the risk of premature mission termination.

  • First and foremost, the design of our satellite in general, on-board data handling, and the commands subsystem will follow current practices in nanosatellite design and construction. We plan to utilize flight-proven parts from existing nanosatellite vendors to reduce any unforeseen risks and leverage the reliability of flight heritage solutions.
  • Secondly, our onboard data-handling and command system will be split into primary and secondary partitions, where the primary partition will act as a supervisor with priority in commanding the satellite subsystems and can override user code execution on the secondary partition. The mission software and operating system on the primary will be selected or designed by our team and will not be accessible or overwritable by our satellite users.
  • Thirdly, a degree of flight envelope protection will be implemented for the mission software – runtime environment on host operating systems will provide safety checks and threshold limits for potentially dangerous user command sequences.

As the primary operational precaution, before any user code will run in space, it has to pass the comprehensive test procedures on the ground, from basic sanity checks to predictive analysis of the satellite behaviour using “digital twin”, synced with the real satellite using real-time telemetry. In the case of mission-critical emergencies the secondary on-board computer running misbehaving user code will be powered-off, either through command from the ground station or by autonomous decision-making of the primary on-board computer.

Technical solutions are not the only actions we should be using. There is no substitute for experience, and the moment we will be able to secure sufficient funding to start our mission design, we will be hiring people with experience in nanosatellite mission design and operation: system engineers, electrical and mechanical engineers, software developers and orbital mechanics experts. A lot of necessary answers will be obtained during our collaboration with ESA’s OPS-SAT mission, to be launched in just a few days, on December 17, 2019, so we will not be operating in the blind when the time comes for our own mission in late 2020.

In our next update we will describe the potential business risks and our approach to minimise them. 

NOVA Mission Goals

The primary goal of our mission, NOVA, is to radically lower the entry barrier for parties and people interested in conducting their own research and projects in space.

Currently, it requires an incredible amount of time and effort to deploy and operate any kind of instrument in space, even on the smallest possible satellite, and the mission payload is accessible to the few, not the many.

NOVA will create numerous opportunities for both companies and individuals alike, opening up the doors to space for people that previously could not afford access to this type of technology. 

What we can offer in the long run is a “satellite-as-a-service” system, with our space and ground infrastructure becoming a revolutionary new development platform. NOVA is a proof of concept, that if successful, will become a precursor to an untold number of missions with diverse payload types and features available for customers to utilise.

Examples of potential instruments include:

  • AIS and ADS-B receivers
  • Laser and SDR transceivers for IoT connectivity
  • Earth observation cameras
  • Astronomical observation cameras
  • Particle detectors

Universities will be able to grant their students access to a software development platform that operates in the space environment, giving them direct experience with real satellite hardware and satellite operations. The system could also be used as a qualification and test platform for high-risk/high-impact projects from existing aerospace businesses.

These are but a few examples.

NOVA will unlock an almost endless list of possibilities that we are excited to anticipate.

Press Release From Space Tech Expo 2019

We are pleased to announce that we have signed our first Memorandum of Understanding.

Lumi Space intend to use our satellite-as-a-service solution as a testbed for their own mission, the delivery of extra power to satellites from a network of ground-based laser stations.

Exodus Orbitals had a great time at Space Tech Expo Europe 2019 and we look forward to developing more partnerships in the coming months!

Exodus Orbitals Is Selected for New Space Business Plan Competition

We are pleased to announce that Exodus Orbitals has been selected as a finalist for the NewSpace Business Plan Competition!

We will be presenting our business plan before a panel of space industry professionals at the event, which is in partnership with the New Worlds 2019 Conference, on November 15th in Austin, TX.

Follow us for more updates!