Airbus Defence and Space Satellites is the first space company to offer its customers mass storage integrating Flash technology
Flash Memory has never been used in the commercial space sector before
Airbus Defence and Space – already the world leader for mass data storage in the space equipment market – has achieved a world first by offering its customers a Flash technology recorder on a commercial satellite successfully operating since the SPOT 6 launch last September.
Mount Vesuvius, Italy, as imaged by SPOT 6 (right), and then compressed and stored in the CoReCi (Flash Mass Memory & Compression) unit. (© 2012 Airbus Defence and Space – Distribution Airbus Defence and Space France)
Mass data storage devices enable Earth observation and science satellites to store the large amounts of data gathered by the onboard instruments until it can be sent back to Earth. Until now, the component used by all space sector suppliers of mass storage devices was SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory), also used for the working memory of desktop computers. There is a major drawback to using this component: it must be powered continuously because if it is switched off it ‘forgets’ the stored data.
The CoReCi Flash Mass Memory & Compression Unit during integration on SPOT 6 at Airbus Defence and Space’s Toulouse site
Airbus Defence and Space has become the first company to offer its customers mass storage integrating Flash technology. Flash memory is well known in the world of consumer electronics; all the market’s small devices are equipped with it, including smartphones, digital cameras, USB keys, etc. However, it has never been used in the commercial space sector before.
This technology has many advantages over SDRAM because a mass memory unit using this technology has typically 60% higher storage capacity, is 2.5 times lighter, five times smaller, consumes 3.5 times less power and finally, is non-volatile, i.e. it retains the stored information even when not powered.
The Sentinel-2 Mass Memory & Formatting Unit offering 4Tbit of Flash Storage for only 14 kg and 35 W
Since this technology did not yet exist in the space sector, Airbus Defence and Space sourced a commercial component, identical to those destined for the consumer market. “These technologies evolve very rapidly and manufacturers can stop production at any time,” explains Tim Pike, head of the mass storage device product line, “Even before qualification, we have to build up stock to ensure that we can satisfy our customers’ future requirements using exactly the same component as the one about to be qualified.”
The product-orientated approach, an innovative strategy
With Flash memory, Airbus Defence and Space has applied a truly product-orientated approach. The company took the initiative of investing from its own capital to develop and qualify this technology, staying one step ahead of customer demands. It defined the specifications itself, initiated market surveys, purchased stock and performed the qualification tests so that it could directly offer this option to its customers.
“This type of investment is always a gamble, an accepted risk is taken to gain a technological edge over our competitors,” explains Tim, “We were convinced that Flash technology was the future of memory equipment and the fact that the European Space Agency has now chosen this option for the Sentinel-2 satellite confirms that we made the right choice.”
SEOSAT PDHU Flight Model based on CoReCi: a successful joint development
It is also the first time Airbus Defence and Space’s electronics centres have combined their forces for development with a common strategy, a single supplier, a coordinated qualification plan at component and board level and all by a single project team. The qualification process was successfully completed in 2009 and since September 2012 Airbus Defence and Space has been acquiring ‘in-flight’ experience of its Flash technology on board the SPOT 6 satellite.
This is a fine example of co-operation between the various centres in the company which proves that co-ordinating efforts makes Airbus Defence and Space a competitive force to be reckoned with in the market.
Flash technology is already operational on SPOT 6 and will also be used on the SPOT 7 satellite for Airbus Defence and Space, Sentinel-2 Mass Memory & Formatting Unit (MMFU), payload data handling units (PDHU) for ESA’s Sentinel-5 Precursor and ExoMars, and the SEOSAT PDHU for the Spanish government.