The European Space Agency's inexpensive software testbed based on three cubesat modules
It is very difficult to perform live testing in the domain of mission control systems. No-one wants to take any risk with an existing, valuable satellite, so it is very difficult to test new procedures, techniques or systems in orbit. The OPS-SAT solution is to design a low-cost satellite that is rock-solid safe and robust even if there are any malfunctions due to testing.
The robustness of the basic satellite itself will give ESA flight control teams the confidence they need to upload and try out new, innovative control software submitted by experimenters; the satellite can always be recovered if something goes wrong.
Achieving this level of performance and safety at a low cost is a challenge. To do this, OPS-SAT combines off-the-shelf subsystems as typically used with cubesats, the latest terrestrial microelectronics for the on-board computer and the experience ESA has gained in operating satellites for the last 40 years in keeping missions safe.
The result is an open, flying 'laboratory' that will be available for in-orbit demonstration of revolutionary new control systems and software that would be too risky to trial on a 'real' satellite. By the end of 2013, over 100 companies and institutions from 17 European countries have registered experimental proposals to fly on OPS-SAT. The design and definition phase of the mission is in progress and due to be completed in early 2014. The implementation phase is foreseen to start shortly afterwards, with a launch in 2016.