High-Performance Nanosatellite Control Software Testing and Validation with dSPACE ASM Satellite

Published: January 06, 2014

The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University ARAPAIMA Team. 

Engineering students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and the University of Arkansas are partnering together on a research and development mission to design and build a nanosatellite. The students are utilizing a dSPACE system that includes a dSPACE Simulator Mid-Size for hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulation, processor boards, Ethernet development tools, and dSPACE ASM Satellite software.

Nanosatellite Competition

The nanosatellite project is part of a competition sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Space Vehicles Directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory. A total of 10 U.S. universities are participating in the competition, which is focused on education and technical innovation.

“We are training future space professionals in the development of space systems by providing hands-on experience,” said Dr. Bogdan Udrea, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle. “One of the main benefits of this program is that students get to learn the hard lessons early, before entering the industry.”


The students have named their project the “Application for RSO Autonomous Proximity Analysis and IMAging,” or simply ARAPAIMA.

The goal of the project is to build, design and deploy a nanosatellite, including a telecommunications subsystem. The satellite will be used to conduct three-dimensional, visible and infrared imaging and surveillance of resident space objects (RSOs).

Dr. Udrea explained that the current low-Earth orbit is cluttered with space debris and hundreds of satellites that are threatening future space missions. He hopes the ARAPAIMA project can help resolve this problem by identifying affordable, low-risk nanosatellite technologies that can be used to efficiently remove RSOs.

Incorporating dSPACE Tools

According to Dr. Udrea, the students plan to use dSPACE ASM Satellite as the “skeleton” of its onboard software.

“We are ‘fleshing out’ the skeleton by adding our own models of the satellite (known as the plant), which includes sensors, actuators, the environment and controllers that we are also developing. We also plan to use dSPACE TargetLink in future stages of the project to automatically generate source code for the controllers.”

To help manage varying programming and documenting styles among team members, which are not always compatible, Dr. Udrea said they are using the interface definitions from dSPACE ASM Satellite to streamline everything.

Additionally, Dr. Udrea said the students are planning to use a dSPACE real-time system as the core of their simulator (see Figure 1).

“We have a plan to purchase engineering qualification models (lab models) of most of the components of the attitude determination and control, power, propulsion, and communications subsystems,” he said. We will connect them with the onboard computers that will run the controllers. The dSPACE system will run the models of the nanosatellite (plant).”

Supporting K-12 STEM

 This schematic diagram represents the real-time test bed for the ARAPAIMA project.

As team members are building their nanosatellite, they are also branching out to K-12 students to share their project experiences and spark interest in science and engineering.

Team members are visiting local schools to talk with students about satellite technology. They also give the younger students the opportunity to launch models and water rockets. Team members are also inviting K-12 students to visit their own Spacecraft Development Lab, where they can see, first hand, how the nanosatellite project is coming alive. The nanosatellite is being built in six stages – 1) system concept design, 2) system requirements identification, 3) preliminary design, 4) critical design, 5) prototype qualification, and 6) demonstration of flight hardware.

The winning team will be announced in January 2015. This team will be awarded additional funding for the construction and launch of their satellite. Good luck to Embry-Riddle and the University of Arkansas!

Bogdan Udrea
Assistant Professor
Aerospace Engineering Department
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Daytona Beach, Florida, USA

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