Military Embedded Systems

Open architectures and standards for space


August 29, 2019

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

Open architecture initiatives and open standards are regularly discussed in this space, but I don’t often get to discuss them with an open architecture guru such as Patrick Collier, one of the minds behind the Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) initiative and the OpenVPX standard, like I did in a recent podcast on “Open Architectures in Space.”

Collier, who previously worked for the government pushing open architectures, is now an open systems architect with Harris Corp., where he continues to help the industry from the inside, working to move users to an area where they start heavily leveraging open architectures.

During the podcast – part of a series called the New Space Race – we chatted about SpaceVPX, SpaceVNX, Collier’s work on SOSA, and the possibility of applying SOSA to space applications. I share part of that discussion below. (To listen to the podcast, visit

Collier told me the most common roadblock he found in getting open architecture initiatives off the ground has not been a technical one, but is more of a mindset challenge.

“If you look at it, these are not technically hard problems,” Collier said. “They’re not things that require a lot of research and development. They are engineering efforts. It’s really about getting all the people involved to change their mindset, to get them essentially out of their comfort zone, to start to think differently. They’re used to doing things a certain way. What we wanted to do is to have them stop and re-orient themselves, and start to think about how you do, or build, or design these systems differently. It’s essentially getting the people and the organizations to change.”

Collier, along with the VITA Standards Organization, developed the SpaceVPX standard (VITA 78) and is now working on developing a space version of the VNX (VITA 74) standard.

“VNX was an interesting kind of animal [as it] is tied more to commercial applications, even though the defense industry and the DoD are interested in using CubeSats and SmallSats,” he said.

The roadblock remains the same, as Collier told me he is “just trying to get a good group of people together that understand and are passionate about developing a small-form-factor standard for space.

“I found that finding the right group that wants to virtually sit down and start working toward the standard to be the hardest part, but we’ve finally done that,” he continued. “We have a group right now that’s motivated to see it through. There is energy to want to do this and the price points are going down. That’s why I believe that this standard will be of benefit.”

Open architecture initiatives for defense and space applications

We also chatted about how SOSA and the U.S. Navy’s Hardware Open Systems Technologies (HOST) initiatives for the defense industry are progressing.

“Both efforts are going quite well,” Collier said. “There’s a lot of alignment between them right now. [With SOSA] all the services are involved as well as their contractors. We’re seeing a lot of alignment between those two standards efforts and even between SOSA and VITA 65. So, there’s this convergence that’s going on, which has been the one thing that I and others at NAVAIR focused on.

“You’re seeing all the services and other organizations getting together,” he added. “They understand that this is the way that we need to go. We need to make sure that we do it the right way and that means getting industry involved and getting them to willingly want to do it on their own, so it’s organic.”

I also asked Collier if we would see any efforts to extend SOSA to the space industry. He said he “proposed it to the consortium, and they agreed, since it was a low-level exercise at this point.” Collier noted that papers have been presented on modeling CubeSats with the SOSA architecture.

“We’re pushing this slowly, but surely,” he said. “We hope to see this section of SOSA grow and start to market and serve the space industry. And from what we’ve heard, there’s an interest in doing so. Who knows – it may be that like with everything else we’ve done in SOSA: That if we can leverage an existing standard and use that, they will do it. Maybe SOSA will start to leverage VITA 78, maybe it’ll start to leverage some of the other standards, and then we’ll have this SOSA version of what we consider to be a space architecture.”

To learn more about SOSA, visit To learn more about SpaceVPX and other VITA standards, visit