The Evolution of Mission Planning Systems: Mission Planning as a Service

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We at GMV have been developing mission planning systems for nearly 25 years now. During this time the systems themselves have undergone a notable evolution, alongside with the parallel need of cutting ground-segment development costs.

On ESA’s first earth-observation missions like ERS or ENVISAT the developed planning systems were closely bound up with each mission’s particular problems. ENVISAT, for example, had no fewer than 3 planning systems!!. One was designed to deal with systematic planning of low-resolution instruments; another, with demand-response planning of high-resolution instrument modes and a final system tapped into both the above, tagging on platform activities and generating the set of commands to be sent to the satellite and to the receiver stations on earth.

These systems implemented ad hoc planning algorithms for each mission. As such, they couldn’t be used for other missions and once the mission was over were simply chucked away. Each one of these systems also had a high development cost.

The next stage in the evolution of mission planning systems came when the operators’ modus operandi switched to deploying a set of satellites to lengthen the mission’s life span. Each satellite is launched in turn to replace the one nearing the end of its useful life. It’s like a relay race with each satellite picking up the baton from the last and then passing it onto the next, lengthening the race without forfeiting performance. The length of the race in our case here is the mission time. Planning systems as developed hitherto were no longer sufficient for missions of this type, since the same system now had to be able to cope with the different mission phases. It even had to generate plans for several satellites in parallel to cater for the mission phases in which the recently launched satellite “overlapped” with the one reaching the end of its useful life. Furthermore, given the long mission life, the system would have to be able to cope too with possible situations that were unforeseen in the operations preparation phase. Missions of this type called for a system in which the planning algorithm offers a certain flexibility, with modifications possible throughout the whole operations phase. Enter the flexible planning systems; some systems, like the one GMV provides its clients with, have developed a rule engine working with totally configurable planning algorithms.

These systems, moreover, are reusable between missions. This slashes mission costs, in line with the aforementioned falling costs of ground segments.

In recent years satellite manufacturing costs have come down too. In some cases, like OneWeb, the satellites are even churned out in series like a car-making production line. This ushers in the imminent arrival of “New Space”. This scenario is made up by low-cost satellite operators whose business is in some cases based on mining and using satellite data. It is therefore no longer a case of big operators working with big budgets but rather operators centering on specific business areas.

A first knock-on effect of this type of operators is the advent of aerospace service providers such as ground-station service providers offering satellite-data receiving and satellite-commanding possibilities. Even the giant Amazon has now phased this service into its portfolio.

The next logical step in this trend is to offer any ground-segment component as a service, enabling mission operators to focus on their data-mining business. This would allow planning systems to be tweaked to suit each particular mission, offering too the option of offsite deployments, ranging from systems hosted on the system provider’s infrastructure to fully cloud-hosted systems.

For this to happen planning systems have to be developed towards a service architecture in which the operator hands over operations completely to the provider instead of operating the system remotely and hence consuming some of the planning services, as hitherto.


GMV is currently developing and upgrading its inhouse mission planning system, Flexplan, towards this architecture. This entails in turn the development of a new front-end based on the web and the generation of an application programming interface (API) that can also tap into external applications. Cloud deployment and the licensing of our product have also been set as objectives to ensure Flexplan’s competitiveness in the space sector’s new emerging markets.

Author: Juan A. Tejo. 

Las opiniones vertidas por el autor son enteramente suyas y no siempre representan la opinión de GMV
The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of GMV

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