SpaceWire: Exploring the Future of Satellite Communication Tech

SpaceWire is a spacecraft communication network designed to connect high data-rate sensors, processing units, memory devices, and telemetry/telecommand sub-systems onboard spacecraft. Coordinated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and developed in collaboration with international space agencies such as NASA, JAXA, and RKA, this technology is based in part on the IEEE 1355 standard of communications. The SpaceWire network connects nodes through low-cost, low-latency, full-duplex, point-to-point serial links and packet switching wormhole mechanisms, ensuring efficient communication among different components of spacecraft systems.

This technology provides high-speed (2 to 200 Mbit/s), bi-directional, and full-duplex data links that connect various SpaceWire-enabled equipment, thus facilitating the construction of high-performance onboard data handling systems. Additionally, its integration reduces system costs and increases reliability by simplifying the interconnection of sensors, mass-memories, and processing units. The SpaceWire standard has been successfully implemented in several NASA missions and is expected to continue playing a critical role in future spacecraft communication networks.

SpaceWire Overview


SpaceWire is a spacecraft communication network based on the IEEE 1355 standard of communications. It has evolved over many years, following key principles and concepts that laid the foundation for its wide application and use. The development of SpaceWire has been coordinated by the European Space Agency (ESA) in collaboration with international space agencies, including NASA, JAXA, and RKA (source).


SpaceWire is designed to connect high data-rate sensors, processing units, memory devices, and telemetry/telecommand sub-systems on board spacecraft. It provides high-speed (2 to 200 Mbit/s), bi-directional, full-duplex data links that connect SpaceWire enabled equipment, making it an essential technology for digital communication within spacecraft (source).

A few notable applications of SpaceWire include:

  • Data handling: SpaceWire enables efficient data handling by connecting essential components on a spacecraft, such as sensors, processing units, and memory devices.
  • Telemetry and telecommand: The bi-directional communication enabled by SpaceWire allows for real-time telemetry and telecommand operations.
  • Modular systems: SpaceWire’s standardized protocol promotes a modular approach to spacecraft systems, enabling easier assembly, testing, and integration of components.

The versatility of SpaceWire makes it an indispensable tool for both small and large-scale space missions, ensuring seamless communication between spacecraft components and helping to achieve mission objectives.

SpaceWire Protocols

SpaceWire is a data communication technology used primarily for space applications, which has a set of standard protocols defined by the European Cooperation for Space Standardization (ECSS).

Network Topology

The SpaceWire network architecture is designed to be flexible and scalable, accommodating various network topologies such as point-to-point, star, and ring configurations. This flexibility enables diverse applications and simplifies the process of adding or removing nodes within the network. Nodes are connected using SpaceWire links, supporting data communication speeds between 2 Mbit/s and 200 Mbit/s, with an initial signaling rate of 10 Mbit/s.

Packet Structure

SpaceWire protocol’s packet structure consists of three main elements: the address, data, and end-of-packet (EOP) marker. The address field is used to guide packets through the network, ensuring they are delivered to the correct destination. Data fields contain the actual payload, while the EOP marker signals the end of the packet and allows subsequent packets to be transmitted.

Each packet is further comprised of several characters. Characters are transmitted over the network using a Data-Strobe encoding scheme, which minimizes the effects of noise and allows for asynchronous communication. Time-codes are also used within SpaceWire networks to synchronize time across nodes, ensuring accurate coordination of events and data transfers.

SpaceWire also supports the implementation of higher-level protocols for more advanced functionality. Examples of these higher-level protocols include the Remote Memory Access Protocol (RMAP) for reading and writing to registers or memory on a SpaceWire node, and the Packet Transfer Protocol for transferring CCSDS (Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems) packets over SpaceWire networks. These protocols build upon the existing SpaceWire standard, expanding the capabilities and potential applications of the technology.

SpaceWire Standards

SpaceWire is a high-speed data communication technology developed for spacecraft on-board data handling. It has been standardized by the European Cooperation for Space Standardization (ECSS) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). This section focuses on two key standards: ECSS-E-ST-50-12C and IEEE 1355.


The ECSS-E-ST-50-12C standard was issued by ECSS on July 31, 2008. It provides a formal basis for the implementation of SpaceWire in a wide range of future on-board processing systems. The standard is organized into several levels:

  • Physical Level: Defines connectors, cables, and EMC specifications
  • Signal Level: Specifies signal encoding, voltage levels, noise margins, and data rates

The ECSS-E-ST-50-12C standard also includes provisions for higher-level protocols that support on-board SpaceWire Data-Handling networks such as SpaceWire Protocol Identification, Remote Memory Access Protocol, and the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) Packet Transfer Protocol.

IEEE 1355

The IEEE 1355 standard is another key element in the SpaceWire ecosystem. Released by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, this standard focuses on high-speed serial communication and is used in various industries, including aerospace and space systems.

In the context of SpaceWire, IEEE 1355 provides an essential foundation for the data communication protocols and compatibility between different equipment manufacturers. It plays a vital role in ensuring the robustness, reliability, and interoperability of the SpaceWire technology.

By adhering to these two central standards, ECSS-E-ST-50-12C and IEEE 1355, spacecraft designers and manufacturers can effectively implement SpaceWire technology into their on-board systems, ensuring high-speed and reliable data communication for their missions.

SpaceWire Components

SpaceWire is a high-speed data communication technology, developed by the European Space Agency, and widely used in satellite systems and other space applications. In this section, we discuss the two main components of a SpaceWire network: Nodes and Routers.


Nodes represent the fundamental building blocks of a SpaceWire network. They can be anything from high data-rate sensors, processing units, memory devices, to telemetry or telecommand sub-systems onboard spacecraft. Nodes are connected via bi-directional, full-duplex data links, allowing for high-speed communication ranging from 2 Mbit/s to 200 Mbit/s. These links enable SpaceWire enabled equipment to exchange data efficiently and reliably.

SpaceWire nodes follow an asynchronous communication protocol, initially signaling at a rate of 10 Mbit/s. This asynchronous nature allows for scalability and flexibility in designing communication systems for various space missions. Each node in a SpaceWire network possesses a unique address, allowing for effective communication and data routing between nodes.


Routers play a vital role in managing and directing the flow of data within a SpaceWire network. They are responsible for ensuring that the data from a source node reaches its intended destination node. Routers use the unique address of each node to identify the correct path for data transmission.

A key feature of SpaceWire routers is their ability to provide Quality of Service (QoS) management. QoS management ensures that high-priority data is transmitted in a timely manner, avoiding congestion and ensuring efficient utilization of available bandwidth. Furthermore, routers can isolate faults in the network, preventing an erroneous node from affecting the performance of the overall system.

In summary, the SpaceWire network consists of Nodes and Routers, working together to provide a reliable, high-speed communication infrastructure for space applications. The combination of their unique properties enables the efficient exchange of data and smooth operation of complex spacecraft systems.

Testing and Monitoring

SpaceWire is a data communication technology used in spacecraft for on-board data handling, connecting instruments, mass memory, processors, and other subsystems. Ensuring reliable communication is crucial; therefore, testing and monitoring play a significant role in SpaceWire system development.

There are various approaches to SpaceWire testing, verification, and certification that help manufacturers and users ensure the technology’s efficiency and reliability. The PDF SpaceWire Test, Verification, and Certification Requirements and Approaches from St. Petersburg State University, Russia, presents guidelines on these processes.

Testing SpaceWire devices and networks involve checking the physical layer, data link layer, and network layer for proper functionality. The STAR-Dundee PDF on Developing and Testing SpaceWire Devices and Networks provides valuable insights into the testing process and available tools. Key elements of testing include:

  • Physical layer testing: electrical signal quality, connectors, and cable length.
  • Data link layer testing: synchronization, acknowledgement, and error handling.
  • Network layer testing: routing and flow control, packet transfer efficiency, and latency measurements.

Providers such as Rohde & Schwarz offer payload testing solutions to monitor and maintain system performance. Adopting advanced testing and monitoring techniques ensures the SpaceWire system operates as intended, thus maintaining mission-critical data flow for spacecraft.

SpaceWire Challenges and Solutions

SpaceWire is a data communication technology standardized by the European Cooperation for Space Standardization (ECSS) in January 2003 and re-issued as ECSS-E-ST-50-12C on 31 July 2008. It plays a crucial role in spacecraft onboard data-handling networks, connecting sensors, processing elements, mass memory units, and downlink subsystems. Despite its widespread use and advantages, SpaceWire faces a few challenges that need addressing.

One challenge is implementing SpaceWire on FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) systems. FPGA implementation requires careful consideration of resource usage, which can impact performance and efficiency. Some solutions to this challenge include the adoption of efficient coding techniques and optimized designs that balance the trade-offs between resource usage and system requirements, as discussed in a PDF outlining SpaceWire on an FPGA.

Ensuring the robustness and reliability of SpaceWire networks is another critical challenge. Routing and switching mechanisms built into the standard can help alleviate some issues. However, maintaining high data rates while ensuring minimal data loss and low latency remains a concern. Reliable error detection and recovery mechanisms, such as forward error correction, retransmission, and redundancy, can help address these issues.

Finally, SpaceWire’s compatibility with different spacecraft systems is essential. Since the standard is based on existing protocols like IEEE-1355, it has been successful in preserving compatibility with a wide range of onboard systems. However, to ensure the seamless integration of SpaceWire-based systems, manufacturers and users must continue to adhere to the ECSS specifications and always verify compatibility during the design phase.

In summary, SpaceWire has become an integral component of spacecraft data-handling networks. Addressing the challenges mentioned above by implementing efficient FPGA designs, ensuring reliability with error detection and recovery mechanisms, and maintaining compatibility with other spacecraft systems will further enhance the performance and overall utility of SpaceWire technology in future space missions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of using SpaceWire?

SpaceWire is a computer network designed for spacecraft communication, providing several key benefits. It offers high-speed data transfer (2 to 200 Mbit/s), bi-directional, full-duplex connections, and is well-suited to handle high data-rate sensors, processing units, and telemetry/telecommand subsystems onboard spacecraft link. SpaceWire is also highly reliable, scalable, and can be easily integrated into a variety of spacecraft systems.

How does SpaceWire handle data transfer?

SpaceWire utilizes Low Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS) for its physical and signal layers, ensuring low power consumption, low noise, and high-speed point-to-point communications. It allows for the efficient transfer of data packets and tokens across its network link.

What are the various components of a SpaceWire network?

A typical SpaceWire network includes sensors, processing elements, memory devices, telemetry/telecommand subsystems, and EGSEs (Electrical Ground Support Equipment) link. These components are interconnected using SpaceWire enabled equipment and establish a unified data-handling system.

How is fault tolerance achieved in SpaceWire?

SpaceWire networks provide fault tolerance through redundancy and error detection mechanisms. Each node in a SpaceWire network can have multiple connections to other nodes, and in the event of a failure, alternative paths can be utilized to maintain communication. Additionally, SpaceWire incorporates an error detection mechanism such as parity checking to ensure data integrity.

What are some common applications of SpaceWire?

SpaceWire is widely used in various space missions. It has been implemented in international space agencies such as ESA, NASA, JAXA, and RKA link. Some common applications include data handling for onboard sensors and instruments, transmitting telemetry data to ground stations, and establishing communication between spacecraft components.

Are there any alternatives to SpaceWire for space communication?

Yes, there are alternatives to SpaceWire for space communication, such as MIL-STD-1553, CAN bus, and Ethernet. However, these alternatives might not be as suitable for certain space applications due to factors like lower data transfer rates, higher power consumption, or increased noise. The choice depends on the specific requirements and constraints of a particular space mission.

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