— Satellite ground systems providers are working to simplify the increasingly complex demands of operating satellite fleets, from streamlining scheduling to improving the collection and storage of large amounts of data.

To address the growing number of users and their desire to merge data from several sources, ground system engineers are moving away from the traditional so-called stovepipe approach of designing a new ground system for each mission. Instead, they are building ground stations and software designed to be flexible enough to accommodate different types of satellites with varying missions.

“For the past three or four years, people have been saying ‘Hey, I’ve got all these different satellites doing all these different things. We can reduce ground cost and we want one system to do it all,’” said Chris Weber, manager of software, system and services for Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. “Customers want to be able to fly them all on a single system instead of a stovepipe system.”

Ground systems providers are tapping new technologies to address the demand for one ground system that does it all. Harris, for example, has added an Internet-based capability to its OS/COMET satellite control system called Network Enabled Operation, or NEO, aimed at allowing ground system operators to manage the system remotely.

The addition of the Web-access feature to OS/COMET, which was designed to support constellations of satellites, is part of an effort to meet growing customer demands for flexibility across ground operations systems while saving money, said Steve Smith, advanced project manager for OS/COMET at Harris.

“NEO will reduce costs because satellite engineers can log in from home or wherever,” Smith said. “They can access the satellites and get real-time updates.”

Mark Schmitt, vice president of American operations for Integral Systems of Lanham, Md., said reducing cost of infrastructure, personnel and training is a driving force for customers who are turning to integrated systems. Integral developed its Newpoint Compass Manager of Managers (MoM) to bridge the divide between older, existing infrastructure and the move toward fully integrated systems. The MoM creates one location for storing data collected from multiple systems, and will provide an interface for new equipment as satellite operators update their ground infrastructure, Schmitt said.

This summer, Integral will unveil its Enterprise Executive Dashboard, which will allow users to collect and analyze data as a single integrated data set on colorful, Web-based displays. This approach allows users to determine which aspect of the same data set to use. For example, executives and sales teams would have access to an element of the data relevant to their needs, while the operations or customer support teams could have access to different features of the same data set. Real-time and historical data also could be fused with other sources of information, Schmitt said.

Meanwhile, management and scheduling of data collection is taking on greater importance in ground systems operations, said Theresa Beech, managing director of GMV Space Systems Inc. of
, which is providing mission planning to NASA’s Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) scheduled for launch in 2011. Scientists see LDCM as key to continuing moderate-resolution Earth observations that began more than three decades ago. The images are widely used in the
United States
and by other nations for monitoring global changes marked by patterns in urban growth, agriculture and deforestation.

The growing demand for the images from multiple sources impacts the scheduling of satellite data collection. Ground operators must balance requests for images with storage capacity.

“It becomes sort of like air traffic control,” Beech said. “When you start getting 10, 15 and 20 users it gets much more complicated, and then you also are coordinating internationally and coordinating with other existing satellites.”

Traditionally, ground system software has been a monolithic system, but to accommodate demands for flexibility and maintainability, GMV has developed open, modular software that is compatible with Service Oriented Architecture, which allows engineers to write their own applications using features of the software without having to use the software itself, Beech said.

“With the Service Oriented Architecture we can break out various parts of the ground system so it’s not one big box,” Beech said. “The software has to be open and you have to be able to allow an engineer to access parts inside your system without actually going inside your system.”

That type of open architecture helps when it comes time to upgrade ground systems that typically need to be overhauled about every seven years, Beech said. Those upgrades become more necessary as satellites outlast their projected lifespan and original hardware and software for the ground system become obsolete.

Operators often find it cheaper to upgrade than absorb the expense of finding both the parts and a trained professional to work on an older system, but emerging technologies are expected to ease upgrades of individual system components, extending the life of future systems, Beech said.

“It’s an unfortunate fact of life that eBay gets used for satellite ground station hardware right now,” she said.