Emergent Successfully Transitions Satellite Autonomy Flight Software to NASA’s Starling Program
Under a Department of Defense (DoD) Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) contract, Emergent Space Technologies, Inc. (Emergent) has successfully transitioned satellite navigation flight software to NASA’s Starling 1 mission. The RIF provides a collaborative vehicle for small businesses to provide the DoD with innovative technologies that can be rapidly inserted into acquisition programs that meet critical national security needs. The RIF is administered by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (ASD R&E) and Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP). Called Software Infrastructure for Automation of Multi-Satellite Systems, or SIAMSS, the objective of the project is to deliver reusable Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA) flight software necessary to perform both single and multi-spacecraft missions such as satellite rendezvous and proximity operations and cluster, formation and constellation flight.
NASA’s Starling series of demonstration missions will test technologies for small satellite swarms. Starling 1, the first in the series, will demonstrate networking navigation and autonomy capabilities for future missions.
Under the leadership of NASA Ames Research Center (ARC), the Starling series of demonstration missions will test technologies needed to achieve affordable, distributed spacecraft “swarm” missions that are scalable to at least 100 spacecraft for applications such as synchronized multi–point measurements; involve closely coordinated ensembles of two or more spacecraft operating as a single unit for interferometric, synthetic aperture, or similar sensor architectures; or use autonomous or semi-autonomous operation of multiple spacecraft functioning as a unit to achieve science or other mission objectives. Starling 1 focuses on developing technologies that enable scalability and deep space application. The mission goals include the demonstration of a Mobile Ad-hoc NETwork (MANET) through an in-space communication experiment, vision–based relative navigation through the Starling Formation-flying Optical eXperiment (StarFOX), and demonstration of autonomous spacecraft reconfiguration using technologies developed by the Distributed System Autonomy (DSA) project.
Emergent uses its Ascent mod/sim and Summit CI/CD tools for pre-flight PIL I&T of the Autopilot flight software for controlling the orbits of the Starling 1 swarm.
As a specialty subcontractor to KBR, Emergent is supporting Starling 1 through NASA ARC’s ISRDS-3 contract by providing flight software, vehicle and environment simulation, and continuous integration and test services for the autonomous navigation and manuevering of the swarm using its Autopilot, Ascent, and Summit products. Originally developed under DARPA’s System F6 program, and enhanced under the DoD RIF for National Security Space missions, Autopilot provides core flight navigation services for higher-level autonomy applications. For Starling 1, it will ingest optical observations of stars in the field of view of the StarFOX sensors and generate relative navigation solutions for the swarm orbit control. A key pre-flight risk reduction activity for the Starling 1 navigation system uses Ascent as the primary validation environment for navigation, swarm control, and multi-vehicle scenario testing. Summit is used for monitoring the progress of both test objectives via its automated pipeline for continuous feature and regression testing. A typical processor-in-the-loop (PIL) integration and test set-up that emulates the deployment of Autopilot on the Starling 1 swarm as shown on the digram on the right.
Through Starling 1, Emergent has demonstrated the capability to integrate its resuable flight software products such as Autopilot into a space mission’s heritage codebase with little to no modification. This is a direct result of the MOSA of our product line, which includes well-defined application programming interfaces (APIs) and a mature software development kit (SDK), as well as the flexibility and adaptability of Ascent and Summit for rapid and robust PIL-based pre-flight I&T. This powerful combination of reusable flight software and multi-spacecraft mod/sim technology reduces non-recurring engineering costs and shortens development schedules, both key objectives of our DoD RIF contract.