Current Activities and Status of the ESA-ESTEC Sponsored

Wireless Onboard Spacecraft Working Group


Rodger Magness¹, +31 71 565 5481
Patrick Plancke, +31 71 565 3693
Inma Hernandez, +31 71 565 3512
Chris Plummer,

ESA-ESTEC, Keplerlaan 1, 2200AZ Noordwijk, The Netherlands
Cotectic Ltd.

Keywords: Wireless Data Handling, Wireless Sensor Network, Harness Reduction, Onboard Data Handling, Smart Sensors, Optical Wireless, RF Wireless, In-situ Instruments, Microprobes, Planetary Science Instruments, Robotics Communications, Mobility, ESTEC Wireless Working Group


I                  Introduction

The advantages of many commercial data communications technologies applied to aerospace are becoming increasingly evident. Thus, ESA is increasingly looking to COTS technologies, commercial and/or international standards, such as IEEE, as a basis for long-term data handling solutions. Input from the space and commercial wireless industries, and academia to the ESTEC sponsored “Wireless Data Communications Onboard Spacecraft Workshop” of April 2003, plus investigations of ESA TOS-EDD and the Wireless Onboard S/C WG activities and sub-group activities over the last year provide the basis for this paper.


II                 Working Group Background

The full Wireless OB S/C Working Group was established immediately following the 1st Wireless Data Communications Onboard Spacecraft  -- Applications and Technologies Workshop, held at ESTEC in April 2003. Current membership consists of 36 members and 45 observers. The Working Group meets three times per year, with additional sub-group meetings held as needed.


III                Conclusions from the 2003 Workshop

Optical Wireless

The increased maturity of opto-electronic components allows optical links to be an alternative to the classical harnessing for intra-satellite data links and TC/TM communications.  This technology offers the advantages of high bandwidth, low installation cost, and flexibility in S/C design and construction . A General Study Contract of ESA illustrated the principle of optical wireless communications between equipment inside the spacecraft: a demonstrator of a fully operational optical network on a spacecraft mock-up was built, with data rates fulfilling the requirements for some satellite applications.


RF Wireless

ESA has defined a roadmap presented at the First Wireless Onboard Spacecraft Working Group Meeting, 9-10 December 2003. Future immediate plans are to pursue both IEEE 802.15.4 for a wireless S/C sensor network and Bluetooth in a more traditional S/C TM-TC data handling application developed to at least a Flight Model (FM) level. ESA shall be actively pursuing having these technologies ready for a flight opportunity as soon as early 2007. Future long-term plans may include IEEE 802.11/a/b/g for space adaptation, as the IEEE 802 family coupled with the IP suite facilitates a relatively seamless architecture over multiple PHY layers, a common management heritage and potentially very good end-to-end transparency.


ESA Technology Dossier

An ESTEC TOS-E Technology Dossier entitled “Wireless Onboard Spacecraft and in Space Exploration” is currently being prepared. The largest portion of this Dossier will focus on COTS wireless technologies, software and the application of several commercial standards, including IEEE wireless standards, the IP suite and serve as a cornerstone document for ESA in European Space’s first generation of modern, robust COTS wireless-based space solutions.


IV               Current WG Activities

Several specific WG tasks and task groups were identified during the December 2003 WG meeting.

WG Task T-0 Application Case Scenarios, including:


Investigations to support ESA’s Aurora  (Mars) program and the ESA Science Directorate’s Advanced Science, Technical Reference Missions (TRMs) for both RF and optical potential solutions

Application Case Scenarios to outline wireless solutions for several currently planned missions, or candidate applications for the short-term to long-term covering the WG’s three themes of: (1) mass reduction, (2) easing the A-I-T process and (3) mobility for man or machine

Task TW, Technology Watch for both relevant application domains and standards applicable to wireless

Domains: Automotive, Medical, Industrial, Aerospace, and others

COTS Standards: Irda, IEEE 802.15.4, IEEE 802.11a/b/g…, Bluetooth, Ultra-wideband, and others

Wireless for spacecraft protocol requirements and standardisation; several other WG tasks have been initiated

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