KP Labs is beginning to work on an expansion of its product portfolio with an on-board computer for small satellites that will streamline and speed up on-orbit data processing, as well as ensure greater hardware reliability in advanced satellite missions. This is the third Data Processing Unit (DPU) designed by KP Labs, and the first one suited for use in larger missions. After the introduction of devices tailored for nanosatellite projects, Lion DPU paves the way for the company to enter a completely new sector of the space industry. The newest “animal” in the KP Labs’ range, the Lion DPU, is part of a unique product line developed by the companySmart Mission Ecosystem.

An official market release of the first Lion DPU flight model is scheduled for the last quarter of 2023. The main task of the product is to process multi-dimensional and multi-sensor data in orbit onboard micro and small (50-500kg) satellites. Using a state-of-the-art Kintex Ultrascale FPGA chip supported by an advanced supervisor unit constantly overseeing its operation, it will be possible to process complex data from several multi- or hyperspectral sensors, navigation cameras and a synthetic aperture radar, resulting in substantial improvements in future commercial space missions. With the implementation of the FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) chip – an integrated circuit that can be customized to perform specific computing tasks and reprogrammed to fulfil current needs, the Lion DPU gains additional versatility. The supervisor, on the other hand, will protect the FPGA from space radiation-related effects such as soft errors in configuration memory or system stalls. In addition, it is designed to perform equally well in missions focused on the detection and classification of hazardous space debris which needs to be removed from orbit. One of its greatest advantages is customizability, guaranteeing the delivery of a personalized solution based on each customer’s special requirements.

The ability to run artificial neural networks will have a significant impact on the future of space missions – from the ones taking place on Earth’s orbit to even interplanetary projects. Exploring other celestial bodies in the Solar System entails many difficulties caused mainly by radio communication time delays between Earth and the satellite. Autonomous formations of units operating on neural networks and artificial intelligence will therefore be an indispensable element of advanced space exploration projects in the near future, and perhaps even the colonization of our nearest neighbors like the Moon or Mars.

Some of the most common problematic factors which electronic devices in space must face are cosmic radiation and continuous exposure to high-temperature amplitudes occurring during orbital flight. This can result in undesirable changes in the FPGA memory, leading to disruptions or even a complete stoppage of its operation. To address these challenges, KP Labs will implement a range of unique features to improve the functionality of the system in unfavorable conditions. The first solution ensuring the desired level of reliability and operational availability of the Lion DPU will be its innovative software capable of performing continuous dynamic error correction of the configuration memory of the chip. This will reduce the average power consumption and enhance the reliability of the unit in areas where it is subjected to increased levels of cosmic radiation.

Significant cyclic temperature changes resulting from the operation of the device and from the variable exposure of the satellite to sunlight on its way around Earth is another problem every modern space mission must tackle. Subjection to such amplitudes consequently leads to mechanical fatigue and inevitable instrument malfunctions. Therefore, temperature fatigue processes, e.g., on the main FPGA of the computing units cannot be ignored as they lead to accelerated mechanical damage on solder joints causing critical failures. Standard thermal management systems currently available on the market usually use aluminium housings for heat storage and traditional heat pipes to dissipate the heat into the satellite body or to an external heat sink if possible. The Lion DPU will present an innovative approach in this area, based on implementing an accumulative thermal system using the latent heat of PCM (Phase Change Material) from an organic group of paraffin compounds. Thanks to this cutting-edge solution, temperature amplitudes on the satellite’s electronic components will be substantially reduced. The PCM material will serve as a thermal stabilizer, optimizing thermal management inside the device. In effect, the lifetime of the unit will be significantly extended, guaranteeing at least 5 years of constant operation in orbit. In addition, it will help to maintain a safe operational buffer, even allowing for occasional boosts in computing power.  

An important part of the Lion DPU which has a vital impact on its overall efficiency and reliability will be its high-quality housing manufactured in conformance with specialized aerospace industry standards. The Lion DPU is also designed and will be manufactured in accordance with ECSS (European Cooperation for Space Standardization) requirements. This gives it a place among some of the most groundbreaking projects which are in the truest sense the trendsetters in the innovative commercial satellite mission market. 

Implementation of innovative design solutions in the new unit developed by KP Labs combined with the fact that the device will be based on the use of commercially available, affordable “off-the-shelf” components will allow the achievement of high reliability and longevity during its orbital mission, while significantly reducing the overall price of the complete product. This approach will make it easier to reach a wider group of potential customers seeking cost-efficient solutions for their satellite projects. The Lion DPU will provide flawless quality whilst keeping the costs at a reasonable and affordable level.  

In addition to the Lion DPU, each “animal” belonging to the Smart Mission Ecosystem is a part of an integrated set of innovative solutions that increase processing power and reduce the cost of the entire venture, allowing the creation of a complete space project. Each product of the SME addresses consecutive key needs of satellite missions. This includes a wide range of functionalities and features, delivered with products like modular on-board software Oryx or electrical ground support equipment Oasis created to test satellites on the Earth. Increased reliability of space operations will be brought with the on-board computer with predictive maintenance Antelope, while the Leopard high-performance data processing unit for AI applications and The Herd AI-powered algorithms for Earth observation will present capabilities of on-board data processing supported by the artificial intelligence.

Want to see our KP Labs animal family venture across the skies, shaping the future of space exploration? Make sure to stay tuned and witness how the “king of the jungle” becomes a king… of orbit!