SSTL secures ESA InCubed funding

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has secured European Space Agency InCubed programme financial and technical support.

The ESA funding will be used to demonstrate a high throughput, flexible and intelligent payload downlink chain for small earth observation satellites, according to SSTL.

At present, advanced and innovative satellite imaging payloads are producing data with ever increasing dimensionality, volume and rates which can exceed a small satellite’s downlink bandwidth.

To tackle the onboard data bottleneck SSTL is leading a consortium that includes the University of Surrey and Craft Prospect to develop and demonstrate new capabilities for SSTL’s Flexible & Intelligent Payload Chain (FIPC) solution.

The FIPC’s advanced hardware architecture enables a new intelligent and adaptive data downlink and a state-of-the-art framework for software defined onboard data processing to realise a payload chain capable of handling the throughput rates of future small earth observation satellites. The framework enables processing applications which include data calibration and image compression to Machine Learning (ML) for image classification and information extraction towards greater satellite autonomy.   

SSTL managing director Phil Brownnett said: “The FIPC solution will significantly improve the capabilities of small earth observation satellites by increasing data rates to match the capacity of the onboard imager system. This will boost both the volume and the complexity of the data that can be downlinked on a single satellite pass – a step-up in capability that will match our customers’ business plans and ambitions.”

SSTL, Craft Prospect and the University of Surrey will work together on the FIPC solution and onboard processing applications and, following the design phases, the consortium will demonstrate and evaluate the capabilities on a flight representative testbed.   

The FIPC is more than just a classical space unit; the software defined onboard pipeline and applications development framework is a critical component enabling end-user tailored functionality, and SSTL will develop the framework which enables third-party developers or customers to develop and deploy novel and disruptive mission designs. Software will be uploadable in-orbit for further flexibility over the mission’s lifetime.