Home >> July 2010 Edition >> Focus... Transitions—Satellite Fleet Migration
Focus... Transitions—Satellite Fleet Migration
author: Gonzalo Garcia, VP of Operations (USA), GMV

To remain innovative, efficient and cost-effective, more satellite operators are investing in the migration of their fleet operations from a legacy ground system to a state-of-the-art commercial off-the-shelf or COTS-based system. A challenging but worthwhile process, the transition must be carried out with minimal risk and without any impact on the satellites’ operations. However, a successful migration enables the new ground system to have a better performance with expanded capabilities, such as automation and lower costs, over the fleet’s lifetime, which is often at, or above, 15 years.

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Why Migrate?
There are several compelling reasons for satellite operators to migrate ground systems for geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) missions. One common issue involves obsolescence of the hardware or software, or serious issues related to the servers or base band units.

advantech ad sm 070810 Operators also encounter challenges with hardware and software availability and maintenance, as the systems were usually selected for the very first satellite of the fleet. Often there is a need or desire to consolidate operations into a seamless multi-mission system, or to reduce the total lifetime operations costs of a satellite fleet. Improving the fleet’s efficiency and reliability; taking advantage of modern technology, such as open architectures, automation, advanced telemetry archiving and broadcasting; and safe and efficient collocation station keeping are also reasons satellite operators opt for a ground systems migration.

Overcoming Challenges
In GMV’s experience of managing the migration process, there are challenges in each of the seven phases, which include specification and analysis; development and system configuration; data and operations migration; factory acceptance; on-site installation and acceptance; shadow operations; and operational support. One challenge relates to specification and documentation as the existing system’s documentation is often not updated. There are often numerous non-documented features and adaptations such as derived telemetry parameters and flight dynamics system algorithms that may become a critical issue during validation if they are not properly managed.

Another concern involves exposing the operations team to the new system through demonstrations or prototyping since they are used to the old process and may be resistant to change. Detailed planning and anticipating of realistic space needs and transfer rates are required for historical telemetry migration because data completeness and compatibility may be a challenge. The best strategy for telemetry migration depends on many factors.

Data can be migrated in the form of raw or processed telemetry. Validation at this point is a critical task, which usually requires the development of ad-hoc tools for massive automatic comparisons between legacy data and data from the migrated ground system. Migration of derived or synthetic telemetry parameters deserves a detailed analysis from the start, including different aspects such as migration of algorithms for the real-time generation, migration of historical data, and validation. A dynamic satellite simulator may even be needed to simulate special situations impacting the telemetry.

One of the most critical elements of implementing a new ground system is the flight operations procedures migration. There may be a need for several types of procedures, including paper, semi-automated, and electronic with multiple versions, which requires working with the operations team to agree on a specific strategy. While validation can be costly in this case, using an advanced, open, high-level language in the new system helps to streamline the process of the flight operations procedures migration.

To be successful, all satellite engineers and satellite controllers should participate actively in very thorough training sessions that include a differential analysis with the legacy system, so that the support team fully understands the new system.

gmv pull1 sm 070810 Another challenging phase is shadow operations, which also requires adequate planning. GMV has achieved success in this part of the migration by making sure all the necessary facilities are in place to support both systems running in parallel until the transition is complete and functional. Other keys to shadow operations include ensuring that the operations team is adequately manned, anticipating tools to perform data alignment, and making sure that all external interfaces support shadow operations through dual compatibility and concurrent operations.

Lessons Learned
Over the course of several successful ground systems fleet migrations, GMV has learned some valuable lessons to ensure smooth and cost-effective transitions for the world’s largest satellite operators.

First, close collaboration between the operator and the industrial team is essential, starting with a complete understanding of the legacy system. It’s easy to underestimate the number of people that should be devoted to the transition, so adequately staffing the migration on the part of the operator is integral to success.

Once an appropriately-sized team is in place, it is important to involve the fleet’s entire operations team and stakeholders — not only people involved in software support — deeply into the process. However, establishing a balance is crucial and GMV is careful not to ruin their involvement with excessive testing or regressions.

It is highly beneficial to schedule early demonstrations and prototyping for some elements of the transition, and especially important for the migration of flight operations procedures phase. From the start, GMV takes into consideration customer-specific operational concepts so that the process is best suited for the satellite fleet at hand.

Validation, another essential part of the process, requires early access to key elements in the end-to-end tests, such as the dynamics satellite simulator, base band units and encryptors. GMV ensures that the validation phase procedures are as close as possible to the operational usage of the system to avoid problems when the system is operationally deployed. Performing exhaustive factory and regression testing before submitting the system to the operations team helps to streamline the process.

gmv pull2 sm 070810 GMV has found that it is extremely important to have one baseband unit early on-site for testing because it allows many issues to be resolved early on in the transition. Making the unit fully compatible with the satellite before final integration is also helpful. The presence of a baseband unit early also allows anticipated end-to-end tests with telemetry processing, synchronous and asynchronous telecommands, and ranging.
GMV also stresses the importance of custom, high-fidelity algorithms for the flight dynamics system to guarantee the compatibility with the legacy system. Also valuable are open, dynamic languages for procedures automation and continuous, remote availability of the dynamics satellite simulator. This allowed for the development team to engage in multiple remote validation activities and made it possible to simulate the end-to-end tests of the new system before on-site installation.

gmv about garcia sm 070810 Throughout the lengthy and complex process, GMV works closely with the satellite operator to ensure the transition is progressing smoothly. One notable transition was the successful migration of a 24-satellite fleet with eight different satellite platforms from six manufacturers that included adding many new satellites during the process. As it becomes necessary for satellite fleets to evolve prior to the end of their lifespan, migrating the ground system is key for operators to remain on the cusp of technology and cost effectiveness.