iBOSS – An Intelligent Modular System for On-Orbit Satellite Servicing and Assembly

The goal of iBOSS is to significantly reduce the costs of satellite maintenance through norming, standardization and modularization. The modularity in particular enables to replace damaged or outdated satellite modules instead of changing the complete satellite, as it is performed nowadays. The long term objective is to achieve easy maintenance through serviceability. Therefore, techniques and knowledge, developed and used for service robotics, will be transferred to such space systems allowing users to design and simulate new satellites in very little time with new, specialized software tools. With such a process, low ready-to-launch times can be achieved, which are crucial in the market of satellite systems.

 Two major cost factors classically dominate space projects today: development and launch costs. The international definition of the CubeSat standard – established in 1999 – has already resulted in a reduction of launch costs, even though it only applied to satellites with a mass of 1-3kg. With this standard, however, the cornerstone for new satellite bus systems was laid. Since then, the focus has switched from time-consuming and expensive individual developments to low production times with mission-adapted satellite systems.

The further modularization of space systems does not only enable to mount payloads to adaptive bus systems. It also allows to compile bus systems with different mission-specific performance parameters and thus to extend the possibility of an efficient use of such systems. Unfortunately, this approach is still limited to the assembly and configuration on the ground, not exploiting the huge potential of on-orbit reconfiguration.

The next logical step – the extension and maintenance of modular space systems with robotic intelligence in orbit – is introduced with the iBOSS project. It is promoted by the DLR Space Administration and also includes, besides research scientists from the FZI Research Center for Information Technology, project partners from TU Berlin, RWTH Aachen and RIF Institut für Forschung und Transfer. In a collective attempt, the consortium is putting its energy into nothing less than revolutionizing conventional satellites. The research task can be split into two primary fields: The modular and connective space systems including the physical structure on one side and the divided control and computation architecture for modular space systems with robotic intelligence on the other.

iBOSS-2 (the predecessor of the current project) focused on increasing the technology readiness level (TRL) and drew a basic structure for maintaining the modular satellite systems. In this cycle, algorithms to plan and perform the maintenance tasks with several robotic arms were developed at the FZI. Next to the robotic frameworks used, such as Modular Controller Architecture (MCA) and Robot Operating System (ROS), the continuously developed simulation software VEROSIM serves as the Virtual Testbed (iVT), capable of performing all maneuver in simulation before the actual systems are launched.

The work performed by the FZI in the previous project was focused on the design and modelling of the satellite modules as well as on the conception of interfaces to connect and transfer data between modules. To support end users in designing a satellite, the ‘intelligent Computer Aided Satellite Designer' (iCASD) was developed. The tool takes design options into account which reach from specific internal component selection to the composition of complete satellites with modules. It calculates the ideal module configuration within the satellite with respect to technical constraints emerging from sensor components and flight missions. For the IT infrastructure the development of a dynamic software and controlling framework was deepened so that all modules can communicate and exchange data with each other. For the robotic on-orbit servicing and assembly, a planning and performing unit was developed to maintain modular satellites with the help of a special servicing satellite.

In the third and ongoing project iBOSS-3, the FZI will develop a dynamic and resource-oriented scheduling system and a distributed computation network which will be realized within the compound of the various satellite modules. As a result, large computational loads can be divided onto several building blocks and it will be possible to set constraints like overheating restrictions in order to avoid processing overload. Another ongoing research task deals with localization algorithms to determine the exact position and orientation of hidden interfaces relative to the satellite. This will be based on indirect model observations which are similar to the SLAM approach used in mobile robotics.

The iCASD tool will also be refined in iBOSS-3. The sharing of resources and the refinement of the mission requirements will be included at this stage of development. For robotic servicing, robust and robot-independent module manipulation strategies will be developed. Furthermore, algorithms to insert and disband modules and module groups will be developed. In this context, deadlocks have to be prevented to eliminate module damage. 

The overarching goal of the 2.5-year project is to rise the technology readiness level to 5 and higher to prepare the systems for on-orbit flight tests, prospectively taking place in late 2018.






  • TU Berlin - Institut für Luft- und Raumfahrt
  • RWTH Aachen - Institute of Structural Mechanics and Lightweight Design
  • RWTH Aachen - Institute for Man-Machine Interaction
  • JKIC - Joerg Kreisel International Consultant
  • RiF e.V. - Dortmunder Initiative zur rechnerintegrierten Fertigung

Contract Period

iBOSS Phase 1: 01.07.2010 till 29.06.2012

iBOSS Phase 2: 01.09.2012 till 31.08.2015

iBOSS Phase 3: 01.10.2015 till 31.03.2018

Contact Person

M.Sc. Johannes Mangler

Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter




Johannes Mangler studierte von 2008 bis 2015 Elektrotechnik und Informationstechnik am Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT). Seine Schwerpunkte liegen in den Gebieten Regelungstechnik, Robotik und Navigation. Seine Masterarbeit mit dem Titel "Adaptive Bewegungssynchronisation zwischen einem Manipulator und einer mobilen Plattform durch Impedanzregelung" fertigte er am FZI Forschungszentrum Informatik in der Abteilung "Interaktive Diagnose und Servicesysteme" (IDS) an.

Seit März 2015 ist er Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter in der Abteilung Interaktive Diagnose- und Servicesysteme (IDS) des FZI.



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Phone: +49 721 9654-204
Fax: +49 721 9654-205
E-Mail: mangler@dont-want-spam.fzi.de

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