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Modelling and Analysis for Mission Success

When planning for the complexities of space missions, state-of-the-art mission modelling is paramount to proper preparation. Satellites form a critical part of our global telecommunication infrastructure, robots carry out simple tasks on the international space station, and spacecraft manning. The complexity and technical nature of these space missions is astounding - relying on the very best tools, technology, and minds to succeed. As the space mission capabilities advance, so do their complexities. Testing and validating mission concepts and systems using the technology of yesterday is becoming increasingly more difficult. Space Mission modelling using simulation is developing rapidly alongside the complex challenges of today and tomorrow’s space missions. This technology has vast applications when it comes to space mission rehearsal, training, and sensor modelling.

Satellite Modelling

Satellites are essential tools for meteorology, defence, navigation, communication, and space exploration. Their ability to operate effectively and safely is absolutely paramount to operations around the world. The installation and maintenance of these satellites have to be handled with extreme care, caution, and thorough planning. Satellite modelling is a critical component of mission preparation. Their main aim is to evaluate performance at a system level. They also help with budget control as the price can easily build up in space missions. Considering all of these factors, satellite modelling must be robust at every level. Satellites have to be able to withstand the harsh environment of space and maintain acceptable internal conditions. Heat dissipation and magnetic fields are just some of the conditions that you need to consider. The magnitude of these factors depends on the mission and payload requirements of a specific satellite. Modelling is useful as a means to perform thermal, structural, and magnetic analysis, alongside orbit propagation tools, to give engineers the information needed to make important changes before mission launch. Mission support teams rely on modelling tools to provide realistic environmental boundaries as a basis for these tweaks and changes. Sensor geometry, satellite orbit, and altitude variations also need to be carefully considered, along with Earth’s rotation, and relief. Satellite modelling must be able to compensate for distortions and complex interactions between all these areas and many other conflicting factors.

Modelling Toolkits

Scientists and engineers have a number of modelling tools at their disposal, all forming a vital toolkit for successful space operations: ● Orbit determination tools give detailed orbit analysis support for the lifecycle of a satellite and its tracking system. ● Conjunction analysis tools determine how the launch of an object into space is affected by other orbiting objects. ● Space environment and effects tools to evaluate the effects of the space environment on a spacecraft. These effects include the high levels of debris that are now in orbit. Failure to consider their trajectories could lead to severe mission complications. Equipped with detailed data and analysis from satellite modelling, space mission teams can rest assured every factor and scenario has been through rigorous testing before launch.

Role of Simulation Software and Satellite Modelling

Simulation software gives engineers and various other mission support members further tools for satellite modelling. They can help in power and fuel budgeting, satellite orbit and constellation analysis, and manoeuvre planning, along with analysing and visualising complex systems with dynamic datasets in 4D. Modelling simulations and analysis that use powerful data processing are replicating the conditions of space for satellite analysis. These simulations can support mission delivery at launch, ground station and satellite level. They can take in a multitude of parameters, such as the amount of power generated from solar resources and complex astrophysics, to calculate and run simulations on a satellite’s orbit. Modern simulations can even point out the precise periods where a satellite can communicate with the ground. All this data is considered when creating an optimal mission profile for satellite launch and maintenance. Other replication and modelling possibilities include the size of the satellite, through to finer details such as the on-board computer and electrical interfaces. This allows greater design and testing tools of the actual satellite payload when simulating orbit paths. With orbit and payload testing simulation being carried out together, data can be given to mission owners on whether design improvements are required before proceeding to the next steps. These tools reduce the time it takes to design and qualify space missions for launch, reducing costs and freeing up vital resources.

Lifecycle integrated modelling and simulation

For systems to survive long periods of time in space and achieve complex missions, lifecycle integrated modelling and high-fidelity simulation technologies are being rolled out. They have various applications in analysing and evaluating system design to deal with the demands of space exploration. These include several different types of modelling such as:

1. Coupled and integrated physics-based modelling

Testing large systems on earth is not always possible. To realistically simulate these tests, you need physical realistic models of scientific phenomena, instruments, and spacecraft. These have to account for various margins and uncertainties and equip engineers with associated risks and grounds for system improvement.

2. Trade space exploration

Trade space exploration technologies use various modelling methods to help develop space systems. They must model these systems against the following parameters to achieve mission success:
  • Engineering
  • Astrophysics
  • Performance and operation
  • Visualisation for design decisions
Taking these parameters into account, modelling allows new mission architectural solutions to be visualised and analysed at much greater detail. Performance targets are achieved faster and with greater effectiveness. These targets include multi-parameter design, design validation, scientific modelling for in-situ remote sensing, and trajectory performance modelling for landers and orbiters. Rigorous verification, validation, and integration is required for these forms of modelling to be successful. When used to generate simulations, they are the foundation for system exploration, analysis, and refinement.

Space vehicle operation and training

Simulators have long been a staple in astronaut training, designed to test and familiarise them with every phase of a mission. Part-task trainers contain complete hands-on virtual access to all the system controls that they need to handle. These can be used on a daily basis to practice numerous situations, including both normal and emergency operations. Astronauts will spend far more time in a simulator than they will in a spaceship. This is to encourage familiarity with any obstacle or problem that needs solving. Teamwork is absolutely essential here and modern-day simulators have the ability to facilitate complex team drills and problem-solving practice. To move from training an individual to entire crews, the software is simply adapted to a bigger simulator that can host interactions between multiple users. Together, individual and crew part-task trainers form the foundation of preparing astronauts to interact with the real spacecraft systems. Training programmes that prepare astronauts for missions are rolled out in blocks. Simulators start off almost like training wheels for each individual. Astronauts become familiar with the necessary systems virtually. This is followed by further testing and scenario preparation. After this, crew members work together in simulations to solve complex problems in a safe environment. These scenarios and exercises are being constantly analysed by mission support teams to ensure complete readiness before mission launch. In this way, simulation technology forms a critical component of space mission training and astronaut preparation.

Future of simulation and modelling in space exploration

Simulation technology and ambitious mission objectives continue to propel innovation in space science, exploration and discovery. As simulation capabilities have improved so has the scope of outer space missions. These technologies are showing no signs of slowing down. As they continue to be refined and developed, space missions can be even more ambitious and safe for those operating them. For mission supporting teams, new heights of analysis will be unlocked. These advances in insight will be highly beneficial to decision making processes of the entire sector. Together with better modelling, analysis and simulation tools, operations, and support can explore outer space in ways once unimaginable. Effective modelling has given engineers, scientists, astronauts, and other team members the opportunity to refine the systems required for ambitious missions, along with developing the skills needed to operate and maintain them. By maximising familiarity and minimising the chances of unknown factors interfering with a mission, chances of safety and success are vastly improved. The cost-effectiveness of a thorough system and mission preparation can help manage budgets and channel vital resources. Simulation and modelling provide the sector with vast tools to understand and refine the complex systems needed for mission success. If you’d like to find out more about how modelling, analysis, simulation and VR can change your working life, please get in touch with us. Here at Antycip, we offer a range of services that will help you get the most from your projects. No matter your business, we have a solution for all your VR and simulation needs. Want to stay up to date with what we're doing? Follow us on TwitterLinkedInFacebook and Instagram.


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