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SciSys Captures Key Security Project For On-Board Satellite Software

File image of the path finding Optus D1 and D21 birds that have led the way in commercial dual use communication satellites for mixed civil and military customers.
by Staff Writers
Chippenham, UK (SPX) Apr 14, 2009
The European Space Agency (ESA) has chosen a team led by space software experts SciSys to undertake a proof-of-concept investigation into an innovative technique for securely partitioning on-board satellite software.

Future evolutions of earth observation, telecom and navigation missions are likely to be "dual-use", providing services to commercial, scientific, civilian security and defence communities simultaneously from a single satellite.

For this to happen it is necessary to safely separate the on-board computer system into multiple logical partitions in a secure manner. This is termed "secure partitioning" and if successful would enable competing commercial entities to share a single spacecraft by providing confidentiality guarantees for sensor data, intellectual property such as program codes for space-reprogrammable devices and operational procedures inside a partition.

To meet this challenge ESA has awarded a proof-of-concept project to a team lead by SciSys. The purpose of the "Securely Partitioning Spacecraft Computing Resources" project will be to analyse, adapt and implement partitioning techniques that focus on both security and safety issues in spacecraft on-board software.

In particular this will include a review of separation microkernels currently available or under development in terrestrial applications but which are suitable for use in future ESA programmes.

Speaking about the award, Roger Ward (Business Manager for On-Board Software at SciSys) commented: "We are naturally delighted with this news. Secure partitioning could be a transformational capability for future space systems and to be involved in the shaping of its early development reflects well upon our understanding of both the constraints and opportunities brought about by this technology".

One selected partitioning solution - PikeOS - is already a proven paravirtualization real-time operating system based on a separation microkernel architecture. The PikeOS virtualization concept satisfies a new generation of safety-critical requirements and will allow multiple "personalities" to run concurrently on a single CPU.

As a part of the project, PikeOS will be customised to meet the identified security and safety requirements. This will prove the concept in a realistic environment and result in PikeOS being ported to the LEON3 platform, integrated and tested with the Virtual Spacecraft Reference Facility in the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

In addition to SciSys the team includes leading experts in space and non-space partitioning technologies. These include SYSGO; the University of York and EADS Astrium.

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