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The role of Digital Twins and MBSE in improving Satellite Internet Access in remote areas

As the space era develops and expands rapidly, new innovative technologies also started to make their places for space sustainability and space applications for remote areas. The leading space agencies have already recognized such technologies for rapid growth in ongoing space exploration projects, miniature satellites, and astronomical observations. Although, the private sector is more interested in satellite communication, broadcasting, and internet services through satellite constellations in low earth orbit. The low earth orbit is becoming a host for nearly all satellite constellations because of its unique characteristic to provide global coverage and lower latency.

As LEO is being populated by constellations of thousands of satellite networks such as Starlink and OneWeb, the design of these satellite networks and their data management makes the constellations more complex and expensive. To provide the advantage of space applications to the remote and rural areas where internet service is still out of reach, the new approaches could provide cost reduction measures. This article describes how two evolving techniques can help manage the ever-increasing functional density and complexity of the satellite network in LEO. The state-of-the-art model-centric approach such as model-based system engineering (MBSE) can be very helpful to reduce the overall system complexity that the conventional document-centric methods cannot provide.

The model-driven approach uses different modeling languages and tools integrated with various design and analysis software to build the virtual architecture of the satellite network. It enables the digitalization of the physical systems and subsystems of the satellite operations to seamless the flow of information. This approach provides consistent propagation of corrections, upgrades new information, and critical decisions to all project members and all stakeholders. Models of the system itself are the simplified version of a graphical and mathematical representation of satellite subsystems or operational elements that abstract reality to eliminate some complexity. The models help the engineers to identify issues, missing information, missing interactions, and missed opportunities for development while designing a new system. This interconnectedness of the system allows us to identify and balance a system and manage the system complexity. Further, proper interconnections provide the traceability as model changes through the life cycle of project development.

Finally, MBSE can save the costs of satellite constellations by reducing development time and designing more reliable software. When MBSE is done properly, the result is reduced complexity, development time, and cost which will lead to expanding the accessibility of space applications to rural and remote areas. Secondly, digital twin technology refers to the processes and methods for describing and modeling physical systems by virtual means. The virtual model helps to simulate the behavior of the physical system both space and ground segment and its performance in real-time. Models created by digital twin technology are used to model, develop and counter new types of cyber threats specifically devised for space, so enabling a completely new research line.

The expansion of the satellite network and its capacity will certainly be going to benefit countries that have limited internet bandwidth supplied by international service providers. It will also benefit the small island developing states and landlocked countries. The technologies discussed in this article can provide the simplicity and capabilities that current state-of-the-art satellite technology needs to reach a global scale. The reduced design complexity results in cost reduction which in turn help to provide satellite internet services at affordable price thresholds for low/middle-income consumers in rural and remote areas. These two branches are both at the edge of research in their fields, and if they are merged to forge a novel research line it will change the space applications era.

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