Demonstrating Containerized Software on Orbit

The space industry has seen countless innovations in the 60-plus years since the first satellites began orbiting the Earth. The miniaturization of computers has allowed for smaller payloads and lower costs, advanced sensors and cameras are providing new scientific insights into the universe around us, and improvements in communications technology have delivered ubiquitous connectivity around the globe.
As the industry continues to look toward the future, the next generation of satellite technology will be defined as much by its software as its hardware, and the driving force will be providing satellite operators with more flexibility. At the forefront of that effort is containerized software.

Instead of building software to run specifically on a customized operating system, containerized software is completely decoupled from the underlying hardware. In other words, everything the software needs to run is isolated in a “container” that can operate on any platform. That means containers can be swapped in or out as needed, and hardware assets — everything from your smartphone to a satellite — can be repurposed with new capabilities. That process can even take place in space!

In January 2023, Ball Aerospace launched a prototype payload into low-Earth orbit as part of our Rideshare Program, which served as the first display of our containerized software capabilities. The payload uses the Ball Open System Software (BOSS) framework, a Linux-based software system that leverages Rancher Government Solutions’ K3s container orchestration solution.

The Rideshare team was able to execute multiple container demonstrations and even perform live software updates on orbit.

“This successful on-orbit demonstration of our containerized software framework is a major accomplishment for both Rancher and Ball Aerospace,” said Tricia Fitzmaurice, vice president of sales, Rancher Government Solutions. “This collaboration is a great example of our ability to provide innovative products that meet the unique operational needs of our customers.”

Ball Aerospace will continue to help mature containerized software and on-orbit data processing capabilities through future missions in our Rideshare Program.

“The use of containerized software is going to be a key element in the evolution of future space systems. It provides an ability to refine mission data processing after launch, enables the reconfiguring of systems and allows systems to perform different missions than initially intended,” said Steve Smith, vice president and general manager, Advanced Technology & Information Solutions, Ball Aerospace. “We’re excited to be among the industry leaders pushing this technology forward and demonstrating its capabilities on orbit.”