What applications and missions does Software Systems enable?
ESA's planetary science missions are obvious examples of spacecraft where advanced software systems allow a high level of autonomy to operate with a minimum of inputs from ground controllers and under harsh and partly unforeseeable environmental conditions.
ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is able to dock with the International Space Station on an entirely automatic way, thanks to more than a million lines of code and a quadruple redundancy architecture to comply with the rigorous 'Class A' safety requirements associated with manned spaceflight.
Comparable levels of autonomy will be essential for next-decade planetary rovers such as ExoMars, where the uncertainty of the terrain and the length of time between communication with ground control means that the missions will have no option but to think for themselves.
Greater onboard data processing capability has applications closer to home as well. It is empowering a new generation of telecommunication satellites such as ESA's planned Alphabus Platform, intended to support broadband connectivity across our planet and more autonumous automated Earth Observation missions.
Last update: 1 October 2009