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ThinkMind // SPACOMM 2018, The Tenth International Conference on Advances in Satellite and Space Communications // View article spacomm_2018_3_10_20059


Leveraging Commercial Software-Defined Radio for Low Cost Deep Space Testing

Authors:
Timothy Pham
Leslie White

Keywords: SDR; RF Test Capability; Uchinoura; Morehead State University Ground Station

Abstract:
In a typical space mission development life cycle, there is a stage where the spacecraft needs to test against the ground station for interface compatibility to ensure that the spacecraft will be properly tracked after launch. This testing normally requires the spacecraft team to bring their flight equipment to the ground station facility. While recognizing that testing with actual flight or engineering module is the most preferred option because of maximum fidelity, there are occasions when the use of actual flight hardware is a logistical challenge because of constraints in spacecraft development schedule. Having another test tool that can emulate the spacecraft signal – by recording the signal transmitted by the spacecraft and later regenerating a radio frequency (RF) signal for ground system testing - would be very useful. It is even more beneficial if such spacecraft emulator is inexpensive and highly portable. In this paper, we describe a new approach that enables ground station testing in support of deep space missions. This is very different from the traditional approach used in the Deep Space Network (DSN) where test equipment is custom designed and built, with much more capability in generating signal of different characteristics, but also at a much greater cost. The new approach, which can be used in complement with the traditional DSN test signal generator or with spacecraft flight radio equipment. The new test capability involves a very low-cost and light-weight recorder/playback assembly (RPA). This equipment leverages on the commercially available Software-defined Radio (SDR) and public-domain software. The RPA, thus far, has been used to support two missions under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). One effort is to validate that the Uchinoura 34-m tracking station of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) can track the upcoming NASA Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 2019. The RPA helps the EM-1 team keeps their flight system for other development/testing needs. The second effort is to help with the testing certification of the 21-m antenna ground station at the Morehead State University (MSU) in Kentucky, United States, prior to the time when the NASA Lunar IceCube spacecraft is ready for actual compatibility testing. The RPA also enables MSU student/staff training on the operations of the new ground station. This low-cost test signal generator allows the MSU team to save money and effort by not having to develop a full-scale self-generated telemetry test signal source.

Pages: 23 to 27

Copyright: Copyright (c) The Government of NASA, 2018. Used by permission to IARIA.

Publication date: April 22, 2018

Published in: conference

ISSN: 2308-4480

ISBN: 978-1-61208-624-8

Location: Athens, Greece

Dates: from April 22, 2018 to April 26, 2018

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