Off-the-Shelf Embedded Computers Support CubeSat Applications

Press Office, VersaLogic Corporation, 10/04/23

In recent years, CubeSats have gained immense popularity as a cost-effective means of building satellites, including those in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). CubeSats are small, cube-shaped satellites that typically use commercial off-the-shelf embedded computers.

CubeSats have revolutionized the satellite industry, enabling its users to access space at a fraction of the cost of traditional satellite designs. As the demand for CubeSats increases, so does the need for powerful, compact, and reliable onboard computing solutions.

Small Satellite Demonstrates Possible Solution for 'Space Junk'

All technology has various challenges, though. One of the critical challenges in designing LEO CubeSats is supporting high computing capabilities in a small space. This is where the PC104 format, a rugged stackable embedded computing platform, comes into play. In this post, we will explore how PC104-format products are an ideal solution for LEO CubeSat applications.

Why PC104?

PC104 is a modular embedded computing form factor that has been used in various aerospace and defense applications for many years. It is a compact and rugged form factor, making it suitable for space missions where size and reliability are critical. PC104 modules are stackable, allowing for easy integration and expansion of functionality. Various PC104 types have a wide range of off-the-shelf modules available. From basic SBCs (single board computers), to communication and sensor interfaces, making it highly customizable for specific mission requirements without requiring custom designed boards.

Ruggedness and Reliability

LEO CubeSats are subjected to harsh environmental conditions, including extreme temperatures, radiation, and vibration. PC104 boards are designed to withstand such challenging environments. They are built with industrial-grade components and are tested and qualified to meet stringent environmental standards, such as shock and vibration. These features make PC104 an ideal choice for LEO CubeSat applications, where the longevity and performance of the onboard electronics are critical to mission success.

Finding the Best SBC for LEO Applications

When looking for a robust and powerful SBC for LEO applications, VersaLogic’s Sabertooth is designed to withstand the harsh conditions of space while providing very high performance computing. Measuring just 95 x 95 x 27mm, the Sabertooth can easily fit into tight spaces. It’s available with a Xeon-E or 9th Generation Intel® Core™ processor, for an excellent balance of processing power and energy efficiency. In addition, the Sabertooth is available with ECC memory, which is designed to detect and correct data errors which can be caused by the high energy particles in the upper atmosphere.

Sabertooth VL-EPMe-51VersaLogic’s PCIe/104 embedded computer, Sabertooth

Benefits of Using Sabertooth in LEO CubeSat Applications

  • Earth Observation: CubeSats are equipped with high-resolution cameras or sensors that can utilize the Sabertooth to process image data and relay it back to Earth in near real-time.
  • Communication Systems: The Sabertooth’s processing capabilities can help support advanced communication payloads, enabling CubeSats to serve as data relay platforms or part of satellite-based Internet constellations.
  • Space Weather Monitoring: With its radiation tolerance and reliable operation, the Sabertooth can be used in CubeSats dedicated to monitoring space weather and its impact on Earth’s magnetosphere.
  • Scientific Research: CubeSats carrying out scientific experiments in low Earth orbit can benefit from the Sabertooth’s processing power, as it can handle complex data analysis and processing tasks.

The Bottom Line

The PC104 form factor has proven to be a reliable and effective solution in CubeSat applications, particularly in low Earth orbit missions. Its ruggedness, modularity, low power consumption, and ease of integration, make it an ideal choice for space missions with SWaP constraints. VersaLogic’s Sabertooth has processing capabilities that make it a top choice for these applications. With the Sabertooth onboard, CubeSats can take on more complex missions.

Several CubeSat missions have already utilized the PC104 format for their onboard computing needs, demonstrating its practicality and effectiveness in space applications. As CubeSats continue to gain popularity for various space missions the PC104 format is likely to remain a preferred choice for embedded computing in these small satellites.

Need Additional Information?

VersaLogic’s Embedded Applications Consultants are ready and available to talk about how to integrate Sabertooth into your LEO application. Let’s start a conversation.