USB standard for satellites? Slingshot 1 enters orbit to test it

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Testing of new satellites and space technologies has never been carried out light sure, but it could definitely be Take it easy. Slingshot 1 12U Cubesat mission just launched through the virgin orbitis an attempt to make building and testing a new satellite as easy as plugging in a new keyboard to your computer.

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To say it’s “USB for space” would be an oversimplification… but it’s correct. The aerospace corporation team that developed the new system draws the comparison itself, noting that the military has made several attempts to do just that with Space Plug-and-Play Architecture (SPA), which has become the Modular Open Network Architecture (MONARCH). ) and the Common Payload Interface Standard (CoPaIS). But these approaches have not become as popular as, say, the Cubesat standard, which, by the way, was also a pioneer of Aerospace.

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The goal of Slingshot 1 is to create a standard satellite bus that is as adaptable and easy to use as USB or ATX using open standards, but also meets all the necessary requirements for security, power, etc.:

[Slingshot] offers greater agility and flexibility in satellite development through the use of modular plug-and-play interfaces. These interfaces use open source systems to avoid proprietary restrictions that can slow down development, as well as standardized payload interfaces that do not require a custom satellite bus. These interfaces establish the power, commands, controls, telemetry, and mission data that the payload may require. In the absence of a set of common standards, these satellite bus payload requirements are determined by the various satellite bus manufacturers. Slingshot eliminates this uncertainty by reducing the requirements and complexity of the interface and creating an open standard payload interface called Handle.

How do you avoid the common pitfall that would-be standardizers face? immortalized by XKCD: now there are N+1 standards?

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Well, aside from the rather deplorable state of standards in the satellite world, if we can say that they exist at all, the team decided to base it all on Ethernet, which already supports a huge number of networks in the world.

“The foundation of the Handle standard on Ethernet builds on the vast ecosystem of hardware and software tools developed for this very common interface, essentially taking the most common terrestrial system standard and porting it for use in satellites,” said Dan Mabry, Senior Specialist Engineer at Aerospace. “We have adapted the network for low power consumption, but still support gigabit data transfer between devices without the need to develop special software to adapt the network to each new application.”

And as he put it, when Aerospace wrote Slingshot for its own purposes last year: “When a payload is connected, it is instantly recognized and operational, and any broadcast data is sent to the spacecraft’s downlink without any on-board software tweaking or tweaking. Also, since this is an onboard network, the payload data is also visible to all other payloads. Payloads can easily interact in real time, and distributed smart sensors and processors are unified by the underlying architecture.”

Combine that with a power hub that can intelligently meet a variety of needs and a modular chassis that makes it all look like the back of a well-organized gaming PC, and you have a plug and play recipe that really makes it easy on a would-be designer.

Assembled Slingshot 1 without outer case.

As Slingshot Program Manager Hanna Weiher said: “He is working on simplifying the interface and supporting various satellite buses and payloads with little or no adaptation required for the interface. The handle was key to the streamlined payload integration process on Slingshot 1 where we had a wide variety of payloads with different requirements and it allowed us to integrate the payload volume we did on the shoebox sized satellite.”

Of course, it’s not enough to just submit a simple interface – imagine submitting a PC case with nothing inside. To see if it works, you need to attach something, and thankfully, Aerospace has accumulated a ton of experimentation and opportunity since the creation of Slingshot in 2019.

  • Handle – Plug-and-play Payload Electrical Interface Module
  • Bender – Onboard Ethernet and Network Routing
  • t.Spoon – Modular Mechanical Interface
  • t.Spoon Camera – Plug-and-play camera module
  • t.Spoon Processor – Integrated Zynq Ultrascale+ Processing
  • Starshield – Malware detection on board
  • CoralReef – Coral Tensor Processing Unit
  • STarfish – Secure Embedded ARM Cortex-M33 Processor
  • SDR – S-band Software Defined Radio (SDR) Downlink
  • Keyspace – Cryptographic Services for SmallSats
  • Lasercom – next generation space/terrestrial laser communications
  • ROESA – Using Internet of Things protocols to connect payloads
  • Vertigo is a reconfigurable orientation system.
  • Blinker – GPS transponder for space traffic control
  • Hydrogen Peroxide Hyper-SmallSat Engine
  • ExoRomper – Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Testbed

Some of these are more or less obvious, such as the various t.Spoon components that make up the basic mechanical elements that tie it all together. And, of course, you need a good software-defined radio. But a tensor processing unit and a machine learning test bed on a satellite? Internet of Things protocols? Crypto services?

The computer view of Slingshot expands to show its components.

When I spoke to the team during a visit to the Aerospace labs some time ago, they talked about how much of what is on Slingshot is unprecedented in some ways, but more about adapting normal ground tasks to a highly formalized and limited satellite context. hardware and software.

Let’s say you have three or four payloads sharing CPU and storage. How do you secure their communications? Just like on earth, but adapted to light handling, limited power, unusual spacecraft interface. Of course, secure processing and communication in space has been done before, but it’s not like the plug and play version where you can just click a checkbox and all of a sudden your payload is fully encrypted.

Similar is the ExoRomper, which has an external camera attached to the TPU. There has already been a bit of artificial intelligence in space, but there has never been a setup where you could say yes, of course you can add cloud recognition to your satellite, it will take 2 watts, 20 cubic centimeters and 275 grams. This one, in particular, is configured to monitor the satellite itself, observing lighting conditions – something that seriously affects thermal loads and power. Why shouldn’t your satellite have its own satellite to make sure there are no hot spots on the solar panels?

The data will come from Slingshot as the company tests its many components and runs experiments over the coming months. This could be the beginning of a new modular era for small satellites.

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