Impact case study

SpaceWire and SpaceFibre – setting standards for spacecraft technology

Published on 12 May 2022

Award-winning technology for onboard spacecraft communications and the next generation of space missions.

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Image of BepiColombo Earth flyby, ESA/ATG medialab

Award winning technology from Dundee is now established as standard onboard spacecraft technology. Use of the technology spans the globe, with application in current and future space exploration missions, as well as in Earth-observation and telecommunications satellites.

SpaceWire is a spacecraft onboard communication network which forms the electronic nervous system of the spacecraft. It is an interconnection network which passes information between instruments, data-storage units, processors, downlink transmitters and other electronic equipment onboard the spacecraft. Steve Parkes, University of Dundee Professor of Spacecraft Electronic Systems until 2019, led the research, designed important SpaceWire chips, and, with inputs from international engineers, wrote the SpaceWire standard document (European Cooperation for Space Standardization ECSS-E-ST-50-12C). The ECSS-E standards define technology to be used onboard spacecraft precisely and in sufficient detail to ensure that equipment built by different manufacturers can connect and communicate with each other successfully.

Today, SpaceWire is ubiquitous technology for commercial telecommunications, global-positioning, weather, environmental-monitoring, scientific and exploration space missions, collectively worth well over $40 billion. Example missions include the Bepicolombo science mission to Mercury, the Sentinel series of environmental monitoring satellites, and the James Webb Space Telescope astronomy mission. The valuable data gathered by these missions are handled by SpaceWire onboard the spacecraft.

The development of SpaceWire has continued with a new generation of technology called SpaceFibre which provides much higher performance, and has unique fault detection, isolation and recovery capabilities, essential for space missions which have to operate for several years without any servicing. SpaceFibre has simplified the system-engineering, improved reliability, reduced mass and met the high data-rate requirements of Earth-observation missions. It is already flying on two experimental spacecraft and is now being designed into future demanding space missions in Europe, the USA and other countries.

In 2002 Parkes founded STAR-Dundee Ltd. to commercialise the SpaceWire, and later SpaceFibre, technology research of the University. STAR-Dundee has become a successful aerospace company being awarded the Scottish Business of the Year award (under 25 employees) in 2014 and is now working with Space Agencies and the aerospace industry across the world.

The SpaceFibre standard was written by Parkes with major inputs from STAR-Dundee and other inputs from international space engineers. SpaceFibre has also been incorporated by Parkes into the latest revision of the American National Standards Institute ANSI/VITA-78 SpaceVPX standard for spacecraft electronic processing units.

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Image credit: ESA

REF 2021

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system for assessing research in UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).

Story category REF 2021, Research