Airbus is digitalizing spacecraft development, production and operation – thus reducing labour costs by half and delivery times by one-third. This is the ambitious goal of Odyssey 4.0.
The Odyssey 4.0 project is not merely science fiction for the cross-departmental team within Airbus which is working on the future of satellite development—it’s today’s reality. Traditionally, it takes hours to draw hardcopy satellite designs by hand; now, the exercise is done on a computer monitor, adding sensors, antennae, solar sails and other components to the body of a satellite by drag and drop. Once it’s finished, the spacecraft can be seen on the screen in 3D. If users wish to, they can even view Airbus’ whole satellite product line on a gaming console or in virtual reality with a specialised headset.
"We are digitalising not only production, but the entire process of satellite development – from the first customer offer and configuration, to purchasing components, manufacturing, operation and decommissioning," explains Odyssey 4.0 Project Manager Luc Fancelli. “The digital end-to-end process starts in 2017 and by the end of 2019, Odyssey 4.0 should be fully implemented.”
Odyssey 4.0 follows a data-centric approach rather than the traditional information flow via PDF documents. This means that all data are interconnected and can be used by developers, assembly teams, customers and suppliers. Data is stored in the product data management system (PDM), the backbone of Odyssey architecture. When a customer selects a satellite to purchase, its information is fed to suppliers, who then deliver the relevant components and their numerical data to Airbus. The Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is also connected to the PDM so that Airbus’ manufacturing engineering team can prepare the assembly procedures using 3D mock-ups of the satellite. "Everything fits and nothing has to be reworked," says Fancelli.
Further assistance is provided by digital twins, exact 3D copies of a satellite, which allow assembly, integration and test teams to carry out precise stress, thermal and mechanical tests in virtual reality. The advantage of the digital twins? The cost and time required to produce physical mock-ups and perform tests are omitted completely. But that's not all; thanks to the digital end-to-end process, Airbus can reduce labour costs by half, and customers benefit because the company can deliver new satellites earlier – up to 30 per cent sooner than in traditional scenarios.
After the satellite’s launch, Airbus helps operators to manage their satellite fleets in space. By using information from manoeuvres made by existing satellites together with live data, artificial intelligence can provide tips on how to optimise performance. Are the satellites in the correct orbit? Are the antennae positioned correctly? Are they performing as they should? Once a satellite has reached the end of its life, operators can decommission it, via drag and drop on their tablet, to initiate the de-orbiting manoeuvres.
New skills are required for the Odyssey project to be a success. "We have to break down silos between Airbus functions and our programme lines and we can only do that by mixing fresh, digital talent from outside the company with the experience of our engineers who have been designing first-in-class satellites," explains Fancelli. Odyssey 4.0 will initially be used on Eurostar Neo telecommunications and Airbus Earth observation satellites, but it could also be used as a digital backbone for the development, production and operation of all of Airbus' defence and space products.