European Space Agency

HILINK – the high-speed bridge between ground and payload

In Star Trek, ‘subspace’ or faster-than-light (FTL) communications are a means of instantly establishing contact with people and places light years away. While FTL only exists on the Enterprise, elsewhere in the universe anything which can improve the speed of a spacecraft’s communications is desirable. This is especially the case where control of the payload, the satellite’s precious cargo, is concerned.

HILINK is just such a product. Designed, developed, and qualified by Thales Alenia Space in Spain under the ARTES Competitiveness & Growth programme, HILINK represents a real boost for telecoms digital payloads as it allows for high-speed Already adopted by three different Tier 1 satellite telecom operators, HILINK is a high-rate, flexible, command and monitoring computer for digital telecommunication payloads (Image credit: Thales Alenia Space)direct control of the entire payload from the operator ground mission control centre. It also offers an easy and convenient way of managing hosted payloads (other mission modules ‘hitchhiking’ on the satellite) and the segregation of the various users.

The icing on the galactic cake here is that advanced computing capabilities for ‘over-the-air’ service upgradesfor HILINK are available without the need for physical access, saving time and money.

A new concept for payload management

“The objective was to move from today’s view of satellite operation into a flexible solution that exploits the satellite’s capacities and manages the payload in a more efficient way,” says King Lam, Technical Officer of the project at ESA. “Thanks to this product, the operational concept of the payload will evolve, allowing the direct control of the payload configuration by users,” he says.

HILINK is now to be incorporated into all Thales Alenia Space high-capacity telecom satellites. Placed halfway between the platform and the payload, it constitutes a bridge between the ground segment and the payload elements. Accessibility is via a dedicated high-speed link which is independent from the satellite’s classic telemetry, tracking, and control (the satellite’s ‘housekeeping’) ensuring optimal performance.

HILINK is a flexible payload computer allowing fast payload reconfiguration. It offers real-time dynamicity; virtual, shared and hosted payloads management as well as smart payload services.

HILINK controls and monitors all payload elements by communicating between the core telecom signal processor on one side, to the platform on the other side and with the operations control through dedicated radio frequency interfaces. The product allows for big data processing on the ground, and has a scalable and modular architecture.

Value-added smart services

HILINK is also autonomous, containing the service modules needed for its own operation – power supply, self-configuration and monitoring interfaces. “This project has been made possible through the use of high-performing technologies which combine hardware and software to provide HILINK with the processing resources to cover the present and future needs of this type of on-board electronic device,” says Lam.

Thanks to these technologies, the flexibility achieved in the unit provides unprecedented capacities to host a brand new variety of functions which go beyond the original concept of HILINK. “Up to five new functions have already been proposed which have had a very positive reception among market stakeholders,” adds Raúl Regada, Product Manager, Thales Alenia Space in Spain.

The step forward in this field has been to work in a coordinated way at a hardware/software level to add flexibility and reconfiguration capacities into the overall solution,” he adds.

Raquel Lladró, Project Manager, Thales Alenia Space in Spain says: “With ESA’s ARTES programme we have brought to market a new product for improving the management of the digital telecom payloads.

“HILINK has been so successful that even before ARTES qualification completion, five contracts were awarded for the use of this product in four different missions (involving three different telecom operators with five different satellites), and with up to seven units to be embarked.” Raquel Lladró, Project Manager Thales Alenia Space in Spain

Ricardo Moreno, Technical Manager, Thales Alenia Space in Spain says: “We would like to thank ESA for their support during the challenging process of developing in parallel both qualification and commercial models of such an innovative product.”

Published 02 March 2020
Last updated at 03 March 2020 - 11:28