Airbus Defence and Space

Airbus Defence and Space develops next generation of space computers

Today’s highly complex space projects would not be possible without the aid of computers. One example is the error-tolerant computers made by Airbus Defence and Space, used to steer the International Space Station (ISS) and control the manoeuvres of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Jules Verne.

The demands made on computers used in space are, of course, very different from those on Earth. The hardware and software developers have to take into account such varying situations as vibrations on launch/re-entry, lack of gravity, vacuum, thermal stress, power supply, ventilation and above all exposure to radiation. What is more, reliability is imperative. Whilst private individuals can cope with the occasional failure when working on their home computers, a similar event in space could have extremely serious consequences, even going so far as to endanger human lives. And this is one of the reasons why it is simply not an option to use computer systems from the mass market for space applications.

Airbus Defence and Space possesses broad experience and a very wide range of skills in the development of hardware and software for many different space missions. “Our error-tolerant computers and the Standard Payload Computer (SPLC) have already earned us an international reputation in the field of manned space travel,” says Joachim Schneegans, head of the Avionics Engineering department at Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen.

 

New customer requirements

 

Today’s highly complex space projects would not be possible without the aid of computers. One example is the error-tolerant computers made by Airbus Defence and Space, used to steer the International Space Station (ISS) and control the manoeuvres of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Jules Verne.

The demands made on computers used in space are, of course, very different from those on Earth. The hardware and software developers have to take into account such varying situations as vibrations on launch/re-entry, lack of gravity, vacuum, thermal stress, power supply, ventilation and above all exposure to radiation. What is more, reliability is imperative. Whilst private individuals can cope with the occasional failure when working on their home computers, a similar event in space could have extremely serious consequences, even going so far as to endanger human lives. And this is one of the reasons why it is simply not an option to use computer systems from the mass market for space applications.

Airbus Defence and Space possesses broad experience and a very wide range of skills in the development of hardware and software for many different space missions. “Our error-tolerant computers and the Standard Payload Computer (SPLC) have already earned us an international reputation in the field of manned space travel,” says Joachim Schneegans, head of the Avionics Engineering department at Airbus Defence and Space in Bremen.

 


 

The product line currently under development, which is largely financed by Airbus Defence and Space itself, is made up of two ranges of computers:

 

SPAICE e.Cube

Properties

  • Medium performance (100 MIPS) Error tolerance (security-critical)

  • Radiation-proof

  • Functional modularity (Class I payloads, on-board computer)

  • CompactPCI with adaptor for existing SPLC periphery

  • High performance (> 500 MIPS) Modern, industrial standard components

  • Radiation-tolerant to destructive effects

  • Standard interfaces, e.g. USB, CAN

  • PC104 standard

Airbus Defence and Space R&D activities

  • Developing a LEON-2 based single-board computer with a compactPCI bus

  • New storage technologies, e.g. system-on-chip, etc.

  • Porting of COL logging software

  • On Columbus as an in-orbit demonstrator

  • Initial radiation tests and appropriate modification of a COTS PC104 module

  • Adapting flight software to Linux, implementation for PC104 module

  • Successful use as demonstrator and data logger on US Shuttle mission STS-122


Airbus Defence and Space computer on the international Space Station

SPAICE can be used for a variety of applications. As a single-lane computer, for example, it can conduct the next generation of medium-security experiments on the ISS. In this task, SPAICE will one day replace the SPLC (Standard Payload Computer) which is currently integrated in almost all European experiment payloads. The computer can be used in a duplex configuration to control the upper stages of the launcher. In a triplex and quadruplex configuration, e.g. with a Byzantine algorithm, SPAICE is designed for use in maximum security level applications (manned missions). This encompasses tasks such as controlling future transport systems.

“The initial test results for the two ranges of computers were very encouraging. Now we are getting ready for the next steps,” declares SPAICE project manager Sven Rakers. “This means developing the error-tolerant configuration and the technologies that it requires, including high-speed data links, new interface modules and high-capacity storage devices.”

TechnologySoftwareStandard Payload Computer