Since 2012, ZIN has supported the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program at NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) in Cleveland, OH. Over the better part of a decade, ZIN has developed key technologies, innovative software applications, capabilities, and expertise in space communications systems.
Concept and Technology Proving Ground
Image Credit: NASA
Image Credit: NASA
As an external payload aboard ISS, the SCaN Testbed was available to a broad range of experimenters and users from NASA, industry, academia, and other government agencies to advance software-defined radio (SDR) related technologies and applications valuable to future space missions.
Advancing Space Technologies
Technologies and applications included advancements to the Space Telecommunications Radio System (STRS) Standard, wide-band, high rate waveforms for communications, techniques for improved navigation, routing and disruptive tolerant networking (DTN) applications, multi-access, spectrum efficient techniques, novel science applications using the reconfigurable aspects of the SDR, and more.
Mission Test Facilities
The operations team coordinated with the experimenters as they developed their experiment plans and the team also coordinated development activities from an on-orbit experiment schedule, ground system development, and ISS, Space Network (SN), and Near Earth Network (NEN) perspective. This resulted in experiments that were planned, fully tested, and rehearsed on the GIU before being run on the flight system. By the end of SCaN Testbed’s time on ISS, completed in May 2019, the mission had completed 50+ experiments and culminated in a wealth of new information and lessons learned for the scientific community. This experience fostered the growth of the skills and expertise needed to support the next generation of space communications as technology advances towards user-roaming capabilities, flexible space and ground interfacing, software-defined networking, and cognitive communications.
Space Communications Analysis
In collaboration with NASA GRC, ZIN developed an integrated web-based software application capable of performing large-scale space communications architecture trade studies, mission simulations, and network performance analyses all in a few, user-friendly clicks. This software was designed with scalability in mind. Although designed for NASA, our software suite can also be used to model and simulate ground terminals and spacecraft from other government agencies, academia, and the commercial industry.
High customization and dynamic analysis of space communications services including evaluation of data rates, throughput, transmit power, frequency (RF, optical, and hybrid), and spectrum allocation to support the evolution of existing space architectures and the development of new architectures.
Verified and validated analysis of the maximum number of spacecraft that can be supported by a network’s services based on the technical specifications of network assets, orbit propagation, line of sight access, and link performance.
Quality of Service (QoS)
Tailorable what-if scenario development to analyze the link margin, line of sight, reliability, performance, and availability of space communications services, measured in throughput (data rates), error rates (errors per bit per unit of time), and latency (time it takes to deliver spacecraft data).
Ground Terminal Automation Software
LynxCAT provides the user with a unique method of connecting the real-time orbit scenario to the real-time gimbal control. The user selects the tracking segment to be used in the pointing. LynxCAT automatically computes the dynamic pointing solution. Cumbersome pointing files do not need to be created. The solution will key automatically on available access, enabling your ground station to operate autonomously as space assets come into view.
Orbit and Access Prediction
The ASTRO orbit analyzer is highly configurable and can be used to analyze complex space and terrestrial scenarios such as:
Tabulated data trajectory
Dynamic GPS signal
Ground tracking stations
Planets and stars for science missions
The LynxCAT Toolbox is highly customizable and can be rapidly deployed to support a range of tracking needs. The real-time algorithm can be configured for a range of devices and antenna performance. The software supports a range of gimbals and power measurement devices.
Verification and Validation
The LynxCAT Toolbox software suite has been verified and validated in actual space operations on board the International Space Station. The prediction algorithms are validated and proven. The software is capable of high-accuracy control of a host of two-axis gimbals to dynamically track satellites as they are in motion.
Service Scheduling Capability
This software tool operates as a standalone application as well as being fully integrate with our cognitive communications capability. When combined, our LynxCAT Toolbox Plus and AutoCAT Suite applications provide a unique ground terminal control and scheduling capability that provides benefit to both the communications operators and the mission spacecraft.
ZIN supports NASA in the advancement of cognitive communications networking through the development and real-world testing of User Initiated Services (UIS). UIS is a methodology for requesting services that originate from the spacecraft. The ground station system then provides an automated response to grant and schedule that request. Service can be:
Requests to download science data to a target (TDRS or Ground Tracking Station)
Requests to download telemetry or navigational data
Emergency service request indicating power problems or high temp
Science indicator to help other devices conduct the science on a target.
ZIN custom developed a suite of software modules, AutoCAT, for implementing the UIS methodology and has successfully emulated communications between more than two dozen nodes using IP traffic. AutoCAT has also been successfully tested in real-world conditions using a communications testbed on the international space station (ISS).
Designed for Predicting Motion
Astro Engine runs on both ground and flight platforms
Allows small amount of information transmitted between them (typically less than 100 bytes)
Flight node continually propagates the solution allowing flight to be disconnected from the ground.
Designed for Distributed Software
IP communication between software components
Keeps components loosely coupled
Allows better failure recovery (e.g., single component failure and restart)
Allows distribution across multiple machines, if necessary
Allows plug-and-play changes, if necessary
ZIN has designed, developed, and tested the AutoCAT Suite, a set of custom software modules integrated through the distributed software design to implement UIS.