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Space Blog

Satellite simulators: training for space

In Space, timing is everything. During the commissioning and deployment of a satellite, operators have a limited time to get the system commissioned and handed over to the customer. The same is true when an anomaly occurs, such as an electrical glitch caused by exposure to radiation. Operators then have small windows of time to carry out critical work, such as rebooting subsystems, to resume normal operation of the satellite. It’s not just these significant events in a satellite’s lifetime that require a rapid operator response. Time is of the essence even for day-to-day operations. For a low earth orbit (LEO) satellite, operators only have a window of 10-15 minutes to "talk" to the satellite as it passes overhead. Twin this with the fact that it is often of vital importance to get satellite data as quickly as possible (for applications such as disaster response) and it goes without saying that those minutes must be used to full advantage. SSTL supports its customers with training to make sure ground segment operators are prepared and properly equipped to get the most out of these short time slots. The only problem is that the satellite is often out of reach, or not even built, when training and testing of the customer ground segment is required. So SSTL uses simulators to give operators the chance to conduct "dry-runs" and familiarise themselves with ground station equipment. The "virtual" experience gained from training on a simulator is invaluable to improve the speed and efficacy of the operator and allows them to gain experience of recovering non-nominal situations without the use of a "live" or in orbit asset.
SSTL-designed Mission Control software suite
Simulators are used to train operators in the use mission control software (above)
The simulators act as "dummy satellites", providing the same basic interfaces and functionality as a real satellite. The only difference being that wires replace the 700km-long wireless link that would connect the satellite to the groundstation from orbit. Whilst training helps SSTL customers operate their own satellites, they certainly don’t have to go it alone. The satellites SSTL has launched are tracked from its groundstation in Guildford, and the operations team provides backup operations day and night. It’s simple to see that simulators are invaluable in ensuring we make the most of the short windows in time we have to communicate with the satellites; and to provide the services that are now taken for granted in our daily lives. As our requirements get more complex, so do our satellites, and their corresponding simulators. Stay tuned to read about SSTL’s exciting new "Satellite in a Suitcase".





15 May 20120 Comments1 Comment

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