How embedded systems are powering the space exploration

Space is the final frontier; the great unknown that mankind has always been drawn to with curiosity. Since the first human ventures into outer space, enabled by embedded design solutions to the grand adventurous master plans of permanent human colonization on Mars, the endless vastness of the universe has seized our minds and far extends the limits of what is achievable.

But the vision and dreams underpinning the journey have a silent support system that is often telegraphed, embedded in these dreams. The specialized machine, revered and unnoticed, that powers the spacecraft, the rovers, and the satellites is an embedded system. This system of tiny computers is the heroes that have helped people understand the cosmos, and the future of human exploration even further.

  1. The brains behind space missions

An embedded system is the heart and soul of every space mission tasked with managing and controlling several systems to guarantee flawless operations. These small computers are custom-designed to carry out highly specific work with unbeatable accuracy and consistency, and they are critical to space research. This encompasses overseeing a spacecraft’s impressive acrobats leading to lifting off into space, establishing into orbit, and presiding over the subtle systems that maintain astronauts’ lives in the extreme space.

  1. Surviving the harsh environments of space

While deploying more advanced technology in space, the difference compared to other forms of technology, regardless of the civility of its intimidating size and complexity, is the environment in which it operates. This environment is one of the most critical challenges in deploying equipment – it is hoped that the mere mention of space invokes images of cold, darkness, radiation, and cosmic rays. Embedded systems have been largely able to become a reliable field of deployment due to harsh industrial environments and extreme weather conditions.

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  1. Powering robotic explorers

No doubt, human exploration is the end goal, but robotic explorers have been our eyes, ears, and hands on the front line. Unmanned probes, landers, and rovers with sophisticated embedded systems have provided us with accurate data and allowed us to navigate the unknown and transmit it back to Earth. Embedded systems have been the driving force behind the Mars Exploration Rovers that unveiled the secrets of the Red Planet to the Cassini spacecraft that gave us a novel perspective into the Saturnian system.

  1. Enabling autonomous operations

The most outstanding feature of the applications of embedded systems in space is the ability to work independently. Due to communication delays of multiple hours or days, such a system must be able to work with no human involved. They are programmed with innovative algorithms and machine learning to analyze data, detect if something went wrong, and take appropriate action. This is a vital aspect of any mission that requires an immediate response or where it is impractical or impossible to control a human.

  1. Miniaturization and power efficiency

Space exploration is the game of weights and power, where all ounces and watts matter greatly. Embedded systems are specially designed for this environment, providing outstanding computing abilities in a small and low consuming package. Additional advances in compound technologies and miniaturization, along with designing embedded solution, enable creating more powerful processing units in small-size and low-power chips. It means that spaceships can carry more devices and sensors while saving invaluable resources for even more significant achievements.

  1. Radiation-hardened design

Space’s harsh radiation environment is a deadly danger to electronic systems. Data corruption, hardware damage, and system crashes can all result from cosmic rays and high-energy particles. The embedded systems employed in space missions are fabricated with radiation-hardening tactics to prevent such flaws. For example, specific materials, shielding, and backup systems may help preserve trustworthy functioning even in the most extreme radiation situations.

  1. Real-time data processing and analysis

As a result, space exploration produces massive volumes of data ranging from high-resolution images and readouts from spectroscopy to telemetry and sensor readings. It is particularly the analysis and processing of the mentioned real-time data that is facilitated by the use of embedded systems that allows experts to draw conclusions and make necessary mission corrections. These systems can process complicated mathematical equations, discover patterns for later analysis, and retrieve useful information from the available raw data.

  1. Fault tolerance and redundancy

Space is a harsh environment, and any mishap might quickly spiral out of control. The main principle of fault tolerance for embedded systems in space is the inalienable possibility of partial failure of systems. This is realized by various methods of fault tolerance: the presence of “duplicate” calculating devices, error detection and correction, and “recoil” devices that automatically take over in case of failure of the main one. This is necessary to ensure that work in any direction continues, even in the presence of this type of problem.

  1. Onboard decision making and mission planning

Space missions have complex sequences of events and maneuvers that need to be executed in specific ways. The onboard decision-making systems and mission planning cannot rely on human control; instead, embedded systems are more used. The Systems allow spacecraft to make decisions and quick changes to its flight plan to accommodate changing conditions or situations. More specifically, they process data, assess risks and then decide the best course of action to pursue. These capabilities are destined for real-time missions that are characterized by dynamic environments and the need for quick responses to undesired events.

  1. Enabling future exploration and discoveries

For the far more ambitious future of humanity in space, which includes a permanent Mars habitat and exploration of outer solar system ice-covered moons, increasing reliance on embedded systems is to be expected. This implies the deployment of more capable robotic systems, autonomy, and increasing artificial intelligence will enable new observations and advance human knowledge of the universe . Things like reliability, high computational capability, and configurability ensure that embedded systems are at the heart of this next phase of space exploration.


However, embedded systems  powered by vlsi system on chip design are the ones that deserve comparison to “servers and workstations” in space exploration. They not only support the IT infrastructure of aerospace agencies but allow humankind to climb and explore distances that were not accessible before. More specifically, embedded systems manage every movement, control life support systems, facilitate autonomous operations, and allow live data processing.

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