Digital endeavors in space
While the space industry is now moving toward full digitalization, only a few companies have the actual experience to lead the market. This is why one of them, RUAG Space, is now expanding its digital electronics business in the U.S., with its own robust engineering and production capabilities. So, what about this digital endeavor, how does the space industry deal with the digital paradox, and where does AI come into play?
Did you know that a satellite’s onboard computer processes up to 4,000 million instructions per second? And can weigh as little as 2 pounds? Digital electronics make it happen!
The on-board computer is one of the signature digital products by RUAG Space. It manages all central functions of a satellite or rocket – and as such, provides some of the most significant data for mission control.
“Our aim is not just to drive a digital mindset, our products are – in essence – purely digital. And this is the experience that we are sharing with our customers, a combined total of 2,900 failure free years of our equipment in orbit,” said Anders Linder, Senior Vice President Electronics for RUAG Space.
The digital paradox
Thinking about mobile connectivity, the Internet of things, autonomous cars – it is somewhat a paradox: While satellite infrastructure enables digitalization on earth, the space industry itself instead is still in an early stage in adopting new technologies.
Due to the very nature of its qualification requirements, the space industry often takes a bit longer to fully embrace new engineering or production patterns, but there also is much for our industry to gain.
“Having a rich heritage in digital products, we want to further drive digital applications in the industry, and help to build high-performance spacecraft infrastructure that in turn, connects the world,” Linder added.
Besides the on-board computers, RUAG Space also manufactures other mission critical products such as antennas for NASA’s James Webb Telescope, or microwave products for New Space companies like Astranis. RUAG’s navigation systems are now flying on environmental satellite ICESat-2 to localize the satellite at all times.
Leveraging digital processes
But digitalization is not only about developing the actual products, it’s also about leveraging new processes and data. Nowadays, on-board computers are smaller than ever before. Several years ago, automated processes helped place ever smaller components on the board – thereby increasing production speed and decreasing failure rates; and the ability to assess the data right away for quality control.
Through the use of 3D printing as another digital method, components for electronic or mechanical products are now being designed with an increasing amount of flexibility.
Ready to manufacture in mass
Advanced processes enable us to deliver high volumes of Electronics products in little time and at low cost. “We are now one of the few companies in the market, that can manufacture in mass — which is a critical capability when it comes to supplying constellations and new space projects,” Linder said.
“We are leveraging our development findings from one area to the other – but most importantly, we are ready to create new technology that will enable our customers to be at the forefront of the industry,” Linder concluded.
Powerful hardware for AI
And the future is already on the agenda for the supplier company – with Artificial Intelligence becoming an increasingly hot topic for the space industry.
“We are excited to see interest growing where we can leverage AI technology in space. But the most powerful algorithm needs a powerful brain to process it – and that’s where we do well. We see powerful space hardware as an enabler to embark on the AI journey,” Linder explained.
Connecting mechanical and electronics competence
RUAG Space connects its mechanical and electronics experience and has made its name being a key supplier for mechanical (dispenser), satellite panels, and thermal components for the OneWeb mega constellation project. The company also manufactures composite flight hardware for United Launch Alliance, and builds a key component of NASA’s massive Space Launch System. RUAG Space will be exhibiting its capabilities at the 35th National Space Symposium, at booth #729.