On-board data processing for the New Space

Following the successful demonstration of EMI’s data processing technology on the International Space Station, the next generation is now on the horizon.

© Fraunhofer EMI
View inside the EMI data processing unit (DPU). Commercial electronic components deliver maximum performance with low power requirements.

The so-called New Space is characterized by the growing influence of private players and start-ups. The trend is towards large constellations of small satellites. The willingness to take risks is typically higher, and the development times are shorter than in the traditional space industry. Fraunhofer EMI has been working on solutions for data processing on board such small satellites for several years.

Fraunhofer EMI’s data processing unit (DPU) is a computer system designed for use in small satellites. Its field of application is primarily on payloads for Earth observation. These camera systems capture images of the Earth’s surface or atmosphere in different spectral ranges. As image resolution increases, so does the amount of data that must be cached and processed on board of the satellites. The DPU is based on commercial electronics and can therefore achieve high performance with minimal power and space requirements. The lower reliability of these components is largely compensated for by the system design of the DPU and software methods.

Following the use of the DPU in several of our customers’ missions, in 2022 the DPU was successfully demonstrated on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the LisR mission. EMI’s ERNST satellite, the launch of which is imminent, will also use the DPU.

The next evolutionary stage of the DPU is now in the starting blocks for the HiVE satellite constellation of EMI spin-off constellr. This enhanced version of the DPU is designed specifically for its use in microsatellites, that is, somewhat larger small satellites. To further increase reliability, the device will include full redundancy to compensate for possible failures. Beyond that, EMI is researching the integration of artificial intelligence into the DPU. In future, the actual information could be extracted from the recorded images directly in space.