So this is a "software defined satellite" used for communications -- here's some background reading about why this is a big deal.
> ...an increasing number of legacy organizations and startups have unveiled software-defined satellites and software-defined networking solutions. All of these product and service announcements come with the same promise: to deliver speed, flexibility, and power for a fraction of the cost of legacy hardware-defined spacecraft.
> “With the cost of launching satellites going down via reusable rockets, you need manufacturing costs to go down via mass production of generic satellites,” explains NSR analyst Carlos Placido. “As in terrestrial networks, hardware is becoming software in space as well."
> In a recent white paper, NSR noted the shift from traditionally CapEx-heavy investments of satellite ground infrastructure to an optimized OpEx-driven virtualized network environment that is flexible and open.
> “When you shift customization capabilities to software, you have the ability to reconfigure generic satellites, which is a huge cost advantage over having a satellite that is rather statically configured for many years," says Placido.
If we are on topic of reprogrammable satellites, here is a much more interesting example from ESA:
You can literally write your own software app using mission SDK and submit it to run on the satellite in orbit.
The headline makes this sound really novel, but I see it as another example of governments being out of touch with industry accomplishments when they aren't published in journals (but are available elsewhere). SpaceX has been pushing software updates to the Starlink constellation several times a week for years.
Updating software is as old as space systems that had software. Even the Voyager probes could receive software updates and were updated many times. Curiosity famously was launched without code to do the landing sequence, it was sent over the air while Curiosity was in cruise to Mars.
I think what is novel about this satellite is that it has a software-defined radio and a phased array antenna, and this press release is just so dumbed down that it has lost all technical meaning.
I don't think the governments are out of touch, I think that ESA in particular likes putting out self-congratulatory press releases that don't mention any competition.
BTW this is different from uploading new software to a satellite, that's been normal for decades.
from what I understand, the main problem with a "conventional" satellite is that the transmitter beam is fixed and the shape of the antenna physically determines the shape of the coverage, which cannot change once the satellite is in orbit. if you use a generic shape for the antenna dish and multiple beams,then you can control the shape of the coverage digitally by changing the amount of each beam.
Its touched on briefly in the article but this is what phased array antennas are good for. With a sufficient number of elements, you can modulate the shape and direction of the beam electronically. Its not magic, so you're still operating within some envelope of transmit power and receive sensitivity, and the antenna's effectiveness is going vary across the spectrum, but you do get a few new knobs to twist.
A reprogrammable communications satellite.
What radios are they using? COTS? Custom?
Old news, the JPL did this in the 90s with a Lisp REPL on the spacecraft while under way. And I bet that wasn’t even the first time anyone did that.
Sounds like the beam forming antennas and radios can also be reprogrammed, so it's not just the CPU/OS.
Even that doesn’t seem particularly novel to me.
I haven’t dealt with satellite systems in a while, but I distinctly remember seeing beam forming in some satellite communications company’s advertising material several years ago, and I’m sure even they had updatable firmware.