BackgroundPerforming complex analysis tasks in space is usually avoided with a preference to ground-based computing due to limited computing power of space-qualified processors, long verification and validation process of flight software, complexity of integrating with space hardware, and space communications bandwidth and connectivity challenges. However, with more spacecraft fleets and constellations entering the market and the evolution of small satellite technologies using faster CPUs, performing more analysis in space is becoming more feasible. To even further enable complex analysis tasks in space to meet needs for space situational awareness (SSA), intelligent and opportunistic sensing opportunities, artificial intelligence, or machine learning, the Cirrus space cloud computing flight software (FSW) framework was developed. Conceptually similar to public and private cloud computing platforms like Amazon EC2 and OpenStack, Cirrus provides a suite of services tailored for the space domain to expose compute, storage, sensors, and networking resources as services. While the concept of cloud computing matches, the implementation is quite different to address the resource constrained space environments and cyber security concerns. Directly migrating container or VM orchestration technologies like Kubernetes is simply not a feasible option.
The Cirrus suite of services must consider integration with an array of flight missions and platforms, ground communications methods, and Warfighter planning systems. Some of the key project goals are:
- Develop a FSW framework that supports remote execution of computing, storage, sensor, and networking tasks across distributed space assets
- Have the framework that is agnostic to multiple flight software systems
- Support integration with standard ground control elements, including existing ground stations, antennas, front-end processors (FEP), and tracking, telemetry, and commanding (TT&C) systems
- Perform distributed scheduling services for assets
- Support Warfighter goal-based planning tools
- Meet cyber security objectives to be considered a trusted platform
The Cirrus project was designed to meet many mission objectives where your imagination is the only limitation. Early adopters will have small isolated networks that will meet a handful of specific tasks. An example could include a fleet of small satellites operating in near proximity with cross-link capabilities. Future missions would include collaboration of assets from different providers that enter and exit communications ranges and support discovery and registration of assets that augment the cloud. A highly desirable use case for Cirrus is performing algorithms onboard the spacecraft for payload processing because they can evolve independent of primary flight software builds and they can utilize payload products from multiple satellites. The Cirrus Monitor image shows a use case were Earth imagery analysis is performed with a Cirrus Compute task that queries imagery from neighborhood satellites, then delivers identified ships to the ground. The Cirrus FSW framework is initially being developed to meet Space Force, DARPA, and Space Development Agency mission objectives. It can also be leveraged to meet future NASA and commercial mission objectives, such as robotics exploration on the Moon and Mars or collaborative Earth and space science missions.