Lithuanian experts are making a successful contribution to the development of space technologies. Elsis PRO, a software development company, has been collaborating with the European Space Agency (ESA) since 2020 to develop solutions for the communication of thousands of nanosatellites. These solutions are expected to eventually evolve into a unique data exchange system in space, similar to an internet network.
The need to efficiently manage constellations of thousands of nanosatellites has emerged in recent years, as the space industry has been developing rapidly.
“As space technologies advance, nanosatellite networks are being built and new challenges are faced. On the one hand, satellites need to transmit data efficiently to the nearest ground station. On the other hand, the members of a constellation have to “communicate” with each other and automatically select the most efficient data transmission path so that the required data is delivered in the shortest possible time,” says Rimvydas Jančiauskas, CEO of Elsis PRO.
He says that more than 3,000 nanosatellites are expected to be in space in the next five years. To manage a constellation of hundreds or thousands of satellites, a common communication network needs to be established between the satellites and ground stations.
Elsis PRO is working with ESA on the Galaxy project to meet this challenge by providing a data exchange management platform solution. A prototype of such a software platform is currently being developed to exchange information across the entire constellation of nanosatellites,” said the company’s Innovation Manager Arūnas Ungulaitis.
The prototype will initially be tested in the laboratory, he said. “The development of space systems is very time consuming. It is not a system that can be put into operation immediately – it has to go through many testing phases before it reaches the satellites,” said Ungulaitis.
Space technologies can be applied on Earth
According to the Innovation Manager, the experience gained in Elsis PRO during the Galaxy project – from software development to complex mathematical optimisation tasks – can also be used in “earthly” projects.
Galaxy uses one of the IoT technologies, the DDS (Data Distribution Service), for decentralised solutions. DDS is particularly suitable in the defence sector, for example, by connecting shipboard systems so that even when some systems are down, others can work. This is possible in a decentralised system, as there is no node that, if destroyed, could shut down the whole system.
“Just like in space, on Earth, the transmission and use of data in business and in the public sector has the same challenge – to have the data at the time it is needed, which means very quickly, and to ensure that it is secure,” said Ungulaitis.
According to him, the ongoing project aiming to develop a data-sharing platform for nanosatellite constellations is a follow-up to the first phase of Galaxy, which the company completed in 2020. This ESA-funded project was designed to research and select the best solutions to develop such a system. The project suggested the architecture of the system, defined its requirements and data exchange formats.
Space is full of disturbance
“Although data is nowadays identified as one of the main tools in various fields, its transmission has its own specificities and challenges, which are also determined by the environment in which the data “travels”,” he says.
The new Galaxy platform is based on IoT technologies, which are typically designed to exchange data with devices using different high-bandwidth “terrestrial” communication networks such as 4G, 5G.
“However, the equipment used in space is slightly different – it has low bandwidth and latency. In addition, the challenges are magnified by limited energy resources, as, for example, a nanosatellite cannot have powerful energy sources,” said Ungulaitis.
Importantly, data transmission in space is subject to a lot of disturbance. “While space seems to be empty, it is in fact full of many different waves that can cause problems when transmitting data. Many people have probably heard about solar storms, which not only disturb communications but also damage the electronics of satellites and stations,” explained Ungulaitis.
Galaxy aims for ultra-fast data from nanosatellite constellations
According to Ungulaitis, nanosatellites are the smallest satellites that can carry out missions on their own and are designed specifically to transmit data collected during the mission.
“Each such satellite is designed for a specific mission, and the hardware is installed accordingly – for example, a camera and various sensors that observe the Earth, take measurements and photographs. This data must then be transmitted back to Earth via ground stations and used for scientific research, agriculture, security and other purposes,” said Ungulaitis.
According to him, data can only be transmitted when the satellite is within the ground station’s field of view. However, it may be that a satellite needs to make important measurements but will not be able to communicate with the ground station immediately, so there is a need for faster data transmission.
“With a large network of nanosatellites, we can find a way to transmit data in the shortest possible time. That is the main challenge that Galaxy is tackling,” said the Innovation Manager.
Equally important, Galaxy allows the optimal path to be calculated and the data is prioritised: more important data can travel faster through the nanosatellite network. For example, obtaining forest humidity measurements is less urgent than obtaining data on thermal objects, as it allows rescuers to locate a person lost in the forest and save a life.
It is expected that within 2 to 3 years, the solution developed by the Galaxy project will be relevant to nanosatellite operators who manage nanosatellite constellations in areas ranging from agriculture to defence challenges.
The Novian group of companies offer IT management, software development and digitisation solutions
In addition to space projects, Elsis PRO, a Novian group company, has experience in the fields of aviation, defence and energy. Its activities include development and integration of information systems, application of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, intelligent data exchange solutions, big data analytics, digitalisation of management processes and risk management in organisations.
Elsis PRO joined the Novian group of software development and IT infrastructure services in 2021. Another company in the group, Novian Systems, also operates in the field of software development.
Novian group companies offer IT solutions and services to organisations and businesses according to their specific needs – from software development, design and maintenance of IT infrastructure to digitisation. These solutions include process automation, data virtualisation, robotics and more.
In terms of the technologies, the Group’s competences include high-performance computing devices and clusters, open source cloud technologies, high-availability data, digitisation, archiving and other solutions. The companies have experience in e. Government and are actively working with businesses.
The source: vz.lt project.