Fraunhofer On-Board Processor

The Fraunhofer On-Board Processor (FOBP) is a powerful and flexible programmable communication payload for satellite-based, digital signal processing applications. The FOBP consists of radiation-hardened, latest-generation field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) suitable for space applications. These FPGAs make it possible to fully reconfigure the FOBP from the earth station. That means the processor can be adapted to new communication standards and to changing environmental conditions while in orbit any time. To date, communication satellites operate almost exclusively with transparent transponders that receive the signals from the earth station, amplify them and transmit them back. The FOBP can process the received signals in addition, before returning them to ground stations or forwarding them on to other satellites (regenerative payload).

The FOBP will be launched in 2020 as part of the Heinrich Hertz satellite mission coordinated by the DLR (German Aerospace Center) Space Administration and supported by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology with participation of the Federal Ministry of Defence on the basis of a decision by the German Bundestag.

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Fraunhofer IIS is responsible for the following parts of the mission:

  • Development of new protocols, e. g. for direct satellite communication
  • Testing of new modulation and coding schemes
  • In-orbit verification of radiation sensors (together with Fraunhofer INT):
    • Absorbed radiation dose (UV EPROM)
    • Solar particle events (SRAM, BRAM in FPGA)
  • Research into adaptive single event upset (SEU) mitigation methods for configuring the optimal redundancy in an FPGA
  • In-orbit verification of the HallinOne® technology for contactless measurement of the FPGA power consumption

New approaches to satellite communication

In the Heinrich Hertz satellite mission the DLR Space Administration plans to develop and operate a German communication satellite. The chief objective of the mission is the scientific validation and testing of payload technologies in space.

The purpose of the mission is to test whether particular novel modulation techniques and waveforms lend themselves to on-board processing. Another objective is to test on-board switching techniques, including IP over Satellite. Among other things, the satellite will carry a 30 GHz receiving antenna and a 20 GHz transmitting antenna for broadband communication with fixed terminals and even mobile devices. This necessitates the development and integration of technologies for use both on board of the satellite and on the ground.

Unlike conventional, transparent transponders, Fraunhofer IIS's reconfigurable OBP permits highly innovative approaches to satellite communication. One goal is to devise new communications protocols that allow direct transmission from satellite to receiver, eliminating the need for the signal to be processed at a ground station (single-hop connectivity).

High flexibility for future communications standards

The use of FPGAs means the processor's hardware architecture can be reconfigured, offering maximum flexibility for a range of applications. This provides a basis for the implementation of transmission techniques to be developed. The entire digital signal processing chain can be reconfigured by uploading configuration files. Thanks to a transponder bandwidth of up to 450 MHz, the FOBP is highly versatile and suited to new communications standards:

  • Hardware architecture based on two state-of-the-art FPGAS that can be reconfigured from the earth station to guarantee maximum flexibility for a wide variety of applications.
  • Radiation-hard, high-speed ADCs and DACs that enable direct sampling of the L-band intermediate frequency.
  • Availability of higher bandwidth enables high data rates for broadband communication with stationary terminals and mobile devices.

In addition, the OBP enables user-to-satellite communication (return link). Research is being done into a variety of techniques for receiving, processing and retransmitting signals using an OBP. Fast parallel signal processing on board of the satellite guarantees the optimum signal-to-noise ratio. It also enables error correction, which brings benefits in terms of transmission power and bit rate.

Whole Fraunhofer On-Board Processor Box
© Fraunhofer IIS/Alexander Hofmann

In-orbit reconfigurable Fraunhofer On-Board Processor (FOBP)

Block diagram of the On-Board Processor platform
© Fraunhofer IIS/Robért Glein

Block diagram of the On-Board Processor platform

Fraunhofer-developed payload architecture for the Heinrich Hertz Satellite
© Fraunhofer IIS/Karlheinz Kirsch

Fraunhofer-developed payload architecture for the Heinrich Hertz Satellite

On-Board Processor enables new applications

The Fraunhofer On-Board Processor will be used on the geostationary satellite “Heinrich Hertz” designed to operate for 15 years. The FOBP can be used for the following purposes:

  • Satellite communications with return link capability for nomadic and mobile users
  • Payload reconfiguration
  • Measurement of solar radiation and total ionizing dose (TID)
  • Dynamic adaptation of the FPGA firmware to the current solar radiation condition
  • Single-hop connectivity over IP (Internet protocol)
  • Flexible adaptation to existing systems due to its scalable bandwidth, which ranges from broadband to narrowband, such as for sensor data (power meters)

Fraunhofer IIS – Expertise in satellite communication

Drawing on our experience of developing circuitry for space applications, we can implement RF and signal processing components according to your requirements. Working in close consultation with you, we will use sound scientific methods to determine your needs, provide individualized consulting and help you assess the technical and economic feasibility of a project. Furthermore a wealth of equipment including sophisticated measurement instruments as well as specific testing grounds and facilities such as an anechoic chamber ensures reliable validation both in the field and in the laboratory.

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