Imagine some Silicon Valley software folks without much knowledge of space built a rocket … would you want to hop in for a ride? Would you trust your safety to people who don’t know about atmospheric drag or thermal management?
Of course not. Satellite, rocket, and spacecraft design and manufacturing are complex technical engineering challenges and require specialized expertise in areas such as radio frequency (RF) engineering, antenna design—and even rocket science. So why don’t we apply the same concept of specialization to ground systems?
Often, satellite, rocket, and other space systems are acquired by the government with ground systems included. In other cases, ground systems work is awarded to defense contractors who have built legacy ground systems for past satellite programs—while software experts with new ideas are relegated to a minor role.
Why does this happen? The most costly and complex aspect of the solution is the spacecraft, and so many times, the ground systems are almost an afterthought. Specialty scientists and engineers who understand sensors and spacecraft often write algorithms in MATLAB or a similar programming language, transitioning from there to writing a full-up ground system. Software engineers and architects might participate, but often in a support role only. With this approach, government procurements of satellite systems and their corresponding ground systems are often severely delayed and come in over cost—all due to issues with the ground systems.