Space missions are today producing a huge volume of scientific data in the fields of Earth Observation, Astronomy and Planetary Exploration.
A smart way to meet increased mission needs, both in data management (available mass memory) and in data transmission (bandwidth), is moving data processing from the ground segment to space, developing ad-hoc On-board Payload Data Processing capabilities, looking at automatic data selection (based on features) and autonomous tasking.
The Space Payload Data Processing system, in short spacePDP is a structured framework intended to ease the development of such capabilities.
A solution capable of solving this type of problem is represented by the shift of data processing from the ground segment to the on-board segment for classic operations such as pre-filtering, calibration and calculation of first-level information. The attention of designers moves in particular on the needs of computing power on board. A significant practical example is the processing of radar data (SAR and radio altimeters) through a Fourier transform, which gave a strong impetus to the development of dedicated electronics.
The on-board processing, however, brings with it more stringent needs and more complex challenges compared to ground processing.
The development of similar systems, called on-board Paylod Data Processing (OPDP), brings with it advantages such as the possibility of providing platforms and rovers for planetary exploration of greater "intelligence" or the possibility of being able to modify the planning of acquisitions directly on-board based on the data acquired. Typical applications are the automatic control of a constellation of satellites for monitoring specific targets (oil spills, illegal traffic) with greater versatility than a traditional workflow that passes through the ground segment.
From ground to space segment
Planetek Italia, together with other industry partners, has been actively involved for some years in space segment projects for the design and development of open, modular and compact on-board processing systems. The objective is to develop qualified processing systems for the flight segment that have all the features to be able to perform, in addition to the standard tasks (sensor control, mass storage management, connection and downlink) to those specific to the mission through the implementation of dedicated data processing algorithms. All this is achieved through the synergetic development of hardware with innovative features and advanced development frameworks.
The Space Payload Data Processing system, (spacePDP)
Space-PDP is the acronym of Space Payload Data Processing system, a structured framework designed to facilitate the development of these abilities.
Born from a Research and Development project co-financed by the Italian Space Agency, carried out by Planetek Italia in cooperation with SITAEL (a company specializing in on-board hardware systems) and GEO-K (spin-off of the University of Tor Vergata), the project followed an open and modular development philosophy; the adoption of a software part derived from open source projects allowed the development of the components around a main core, designed in turn to be used on different hardware.
Cost reduction also involves re-use and adaptation to the needs and spatial standards of existing components. The same software framework derives in part from developments in the open source community, which contributes both to the reduction of initial development costs and to reliability (thanks to the experience gained by the community).
Download here the SpacePDP brochure (PDF)