Formation Flying Test Bed

PROBA-3 External coronagraph in space ©ESA


Formation Flying Test Bed is an ESA project the objective of which was to develop an advanced simulation infrastructure capable of handling the specific requirements of formation flying missions. This project was contracted with SPACEBEL, acting as prime contractor, and two IT subco’s.



FFTB was among the precursor projects to deal with formation flying issues, in particular the CPU processing with multiple CPU emulators (e.g. one per satellite) that prevents the system from reaching real-time execution speed. To promote reuse between projects and within the phases of a project and to comply with the SMP2 compatible on-board computer model embedding a LEON processor emulator were also among the challenging aspects of this project.


The simulation is distributed using the High Level Architecture (HLA), general purpose architecture for distributed computer simulation systems. It uses the ESA Simulation Infrastructure for the Modeling of SATellites (SIMSAT) with existing as well as newly developed SMP2 standard-based models.

The LEON-based on-board computer model, efficiently reused from the PROBA micro-satellite program and made SMP2 compatible, can be connected to the ESA generic mission control system software (SCOS 2000) via an EGSE router, hence enabling TM/TC exchanges. The user can decide how to split, distribute and execute an existing SMP2 simulator on various process nodes, over a network of computing facilities or over the available core/processors on a given computer.

Today, Formation Flying Test Bed is a suite of software running at the ESA technical centre across linked computers to simulate all aspects of a formation-flying mission. It is similar to existing avionics test benches, except it can emulate running the software of more than a single spacecraft software at once.

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