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Space Software Helps Control UK Digital TV Broadcasting

November 16, 2008

Imagine how difficult it is to control a spacecraft thousands of miles away, ensure it arrives at the right location and then get the scientific and photographic equipment up and running. To do this highly sophisticated software is needed; software that can also be used on Earth to manage equally complex TV terrestrial broadcasting.

British company SciSys has provided software for a number of ESA missions, both for mission control on the ground and for spacecraft. This includes science missions such as Cassini-Huygens and Mars Express, Earth observation missions such as Aelous and Cryosat, and navigation programs such as Galileo. 

Based on experience from these space software systems the company has developed special software packages to manage complex multimillion Euro terrestrial installations for UK digital TV broadcasting.

“Space projects are among the most challenging for our software industry. They push us to develop new ideas and find new ways of working,” explains Chris Lee, sales and marketing manager of SciSys.

“They create skills we can apply to other problems, and help keep us ahead of the competition.”

Space software for TV

Founded in 1980 around a team of consultants based at the Agency’s European Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, SciSys soon explored transferring their space-based technology to challenges on the ground.

From the systems developed for ESA, the company developed its software monitoring and control packages, one of which was the analogue to digital conversion of UK TV broadcasting stations. Today these software-based packages developed from space technology systems and concepts are at the heart of the UK digital TV network, while the control software systems, developed in support of satellite simulations, are used in media management products for the UK’s BBC.

“Space funding for our technology has been crucial for our non-space developments. In particular it allowed us to develop a capability that showcased innovative thinking backed by use in a challenging software domain,” states Lee.

“The role of ESA has been vital. Our non-space customers know that we have secured our work in an internationally competitive marketplace and delivered to an “Ëœexpert’ customer, which has helped us convince customers such as the BBC. Being a small company there is no doubt that without ESA’s support we would not have succeeded.”

More recently, the embedded software developed for spacecraft has been used in a series of unmanned vehicle test beds, which are expected to herald a significant expansion in the burgeoning robotics sector.

“Space technology transfer has enormous economical potential, which is scarcely profited from at the moment,” explains Frank M. Salzgeber, head of ESA’s Technology Transfer Program Office (TTPO).

“The TTPO wants to help unfold this potential to create new and innovative business and help secure Europe’s position as a top-notch location for high-tech industry. Our goal is to help generate more space technology transfer success stories such as SciSys, for the benefit of industry and Europe as a whole.”

The main mission of the TTPO is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to demonstrate the benefit of the European space program to European citizens. The office is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding.

Image 1: From the systems developed for ESA, the British company SciSys developed its software monitoring and control packages, one of which was the analogue to digital conversion of UK TV broadcasting stations. Credits: AFP

Image 2: Cassini-Huygens swings by Earth and accelerates towards Saturn Credits: ESA

Image 3: To enable the ESOC flight control team to make contact with ESA spacecraft during launch and early orbit, teams of scientific and operational engineers plan and calculate each mission to the highest standard. Credits: ESA

Image 4: With a background in sophisticated satellite control software for the Agency’s European Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, the British company SciSys transferred this space-based technology to applications on the ground. Today these systems are used in UK TV broadcasting stations and media management products for the UK’s BBC. Credits: AFP

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