EGOS-CC: commanding satellites from the shadows
Photo credit: ESA / Timothy Colpman
On 19 January 2023, an important milestone was achieved: ESA’s new Ground Operation System Common Core (EGOS-CC) commanded a major scientific mission in Earth’s orbit for the first time.
It successfully interacted with one of the three Swarm satellites (Swarm-B) during a routine ground station pass. Mission controllers checked the satellite's status, uplinked commands and received data from the spacecraft. The successfully executed commands mark an important step on the journey towards ESA-wide adoption of this new, first-of-its-kind multi-mission control system by 2025.
“Our achievement today is the result of a successful collaboration with European industry towards the next generation of space systems monitoring and control,” says Rolf Densing, Director of Operations at ESA. "ESOC is delivering on our Agenda 2025 commitment to introduce the European Common Core Mission Operations Software as a new standard for use by the private and public sector in Europe.”
EGOS-CC aims to support any aspect of mission preparation and operation and will become freely available to all European entities under the ESA Community licence.
Why a common core?
Replacing an entire ground operation system poses an exciting yet complex challenge. The current system, SCOS-2000, has been around for decades, and systems deprecate over time. Hardware replacements become difficult or even impossible to source and operating systems do not receive updates anymore. This causes reliability and security standards to be harder to uphold, making migrating to a new system inevitable in order to futureproof and enable innovation.
Therefore, in 2013, work started on the replacement of the SCOS-2000 mission control system. An important starting point was the need for a common core shared by ESA, national space agencies, spacecraft manufacturers and other industry and academic partners, making it easier to collaborate and innovate across Europe. The ambition was to support all types of space systems, all mission phases and all mission categories. Resources were pooled for this extensive harmonisation effort and together resulted in a common European base layer to interface with spacecraft, called EGS-CC.
Adapting EGS-CC to fit ESA operations
With EGS-CC, the same standards are automatically adhered to for improved interoperability across organisations, aligning the operational approaches. It provides a stable software baseline that can be configured in many ways. ESA adapted and extended EGS-CC into ESA’s own Ground Operation System – Common Core (EGOS-CC).
One requirement for ESA’s operations centre ESOC is the scalability of its operational control system. As the number of missions flown from ESOC keeps growing, the reusability of its software across missions increases in importance. ESA’s adaptation of the new system is the first generic infrastructure tool designed for multiple missions rather than a bespoke mission control system designed for each mission, as is the most common model worldwide.
Additionally, the modernisation enhances security and updatability by embracing current technologies for software maintenance.
Shadow operations shed light
EGOS-CC is tested and validated extensively during development, yet nothing trumps validation in a real-life setting. EGOS-CC talked to space once before in 2021, when OPS-SAT, ESA’s flying laboratory, was used as a communication testing partner for EGOS-CC. Flying operational spacecraft is a risk-averse undertaking, even if technical pioneering is at its core. Shadow operations make it possible to extensively validate new technologies in a production environment before the actual rollout.
Although shadow operations are not a new concept, the virtualisation of infrastructure technologies significantly lowers the effort required and makes it a particularly effective tool for complex new system rollouts like EGOS-CC.
Commanding the Swarm satellites
While the current control system is still used operationally to fly the three-satellite constellation Swarm, EGOS-CC has been deployed in parallel since mid-November to shadow the mission. The satellites send their data once, as always, but this is now routed to both control systems in parallel. Without interfering with the actual operational activities, EGOS-CC’s functions and outcomes are checked against the results of the parallel system. Any detected issues, from the user interface to the data systems themselves, can then be ironed out and addressed.
EGOS-CC has now gone a step further and briefly stepped out of the shadows in an ultimate validation effort, twice coming to the forefront to be, actively involved in contacting the Swarm satellites. On 19 November 2022 it connected to the Swarm satellites for the first time, when successful contact was established between EGOS-CC and the three satellites through ESA’s Estrack ground station in Kiruna, Sweden. On 19 January 2023, EGOS-CC accomplished its first commanding milestone when it successfully interacted with the Swarm satellites during a routine pass, performing a health check and executing further regular commands.
The three Swarm satellites in orbit around Earth (ESA)
Behind the scenes, the project requires close collaboration between various teams at ESA’s space operations centre. The EGOS-CC Swarm Mission Data System team led by Michael Koller works closely with the operational team flying the Swarm spacecraft, with the mission Spacecraft Operations Manager Giuseppe Albini and the technical point of contact for all common core activities, Pablo Ruiz Sanchez (LSE Space). They are further supported by the EGOS-CC team itself, led by Klara Widegård. The development of EGOS-CC for Swarm is performed by an industrial consortium under the lead of GMV Aerospace and Defence S.A.U., with Alfredo Rumbero as Project Manager and Technical Lead.
What’s next for EGOS-CC?
"Sending actual commands to Swarm is a major step up from passively receiving telemetry,” says Michael Koller, Operations Data Systems Manager and Technical Officer for the EGOS-CC Swarm activity. “It's satisfying to see the work of all involved teams coming to fruition. This validation step of EGOS-CC carries us forward towards operational adoption of the new multi-mission control system."
A lot more testing and validation efforts remain to be completed to make the new system fully operational, but the first rollout is coming closer. If all continues to go well, the Swarm mission will be the first to migrate entirely to EGOS-CC by the end of 2023.
A full migration of all missions from SCOS-2000 to EGOS-CC is planned, which means it must be backwards compatible to ensure that the new system can work and interact seamlessly with all hardware and connected systems in use by active missions. From 2025 onwards, all new missions shall rely entirely on the resource-efficient and cost-effective EGOS-CC system, completing the switch.
ESA will continue to master the most complex space operations with efficiency gains by systematically introducing ever more automation and AI and be at the forefront of multi-mission operation systems. By 2025, ESA will have introduced the European Common Core Mission Operations Software as a new standard for use by the private and public sector in Europe.