On the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 (16th July 1969), Dundee Museum of Transport’s Euan Derrick looks at Dundee’s current links to space transport. Most people would be surprised to learn that space technology research based from Dundee is now used in £10 billion worth of spacecraft thanks to the pioneering work being developed at the University of Dundee’s Space Technology Centre.
The SpaceWire team at the UoD Space Technology Centre has been working in the field of space craft data technology for over twenty years, creating what they describe as essentially a spacecraft’s nervous system in that it connects on-board computing technology. Other space research at Dundee includes the PANGU (Planet and Asteroid Natural scene Generation Utility) planetary landing simulation tool – computer software that simulates the realistic surface of planetary bodies, and tests the vision-based guidance systems (cameras, LIDAR, and RADAR) on a lander approaching asteroids, moons and planets.
The adoption of SpaceWire on NASA (America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration), ESA (European Space Agency) and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) missions led to the need for improvements in device interoperability (the exchange of data between computer systems). Supported by international engineers, the University team created The Remote Memory Access Protocol (RMAP) – which became an international standard in 2010 – to successfully tackle device interoperability.
Over 100 spacecraft so far have used SpaceWire and RMAP. The missions include BepiColombo – the joint European and Japanese space mission to explore the planet Mercury, and the ExoMars Rover mission in scientific operations in the orbit and surface of Mars.
Professor Stephen Parkes began work on spacecraft data technology in 1998, winning a technology research contract from ESA. This research laid the foundations for what was to be published in 2003 as the SpaceWire standard. Over the period 1998 to 2013, the success of the £1.6 million research programme led to the establishment of STAR-Dundee, a company which has 16 employees and 400 customers in 50 countries. STAR-Dundee is currently developing SpaceFibre, the next generation of SpaceWire technology, for vision-based navigation systems.
University of Dundee Space Technology also conduct research on chip and software development tools, run the Dundee Satellite Receiving Station and maintain an important archive of images from NOAA, SeaStar, Terra and Aqua polar orbiting satellites. These images are available to view for free at www.sat.dundee.ac.uk.
On a side note, Dundee born scientist and engineer Andrew Abercromby is now Lead of the Human Physiology, Performance, Protection & Operations (H-3PO) Laboratory within the Biomedical Research and Environmental Sciences Division at Johnson Space Centre for NASA. Working on several missions, he undertakes the design and testing of spacesuit systems.
edited by Samantha Walker