Minimize TanDEM-X

TDX (TanDEM-X: TerraSAR-X add-on for Digital Elevation Measurement)

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TSX/TanDEM-X is a high-resolution interferometric SAR mission of DLR (German Aerospace Center), together with the partners EADS Astrium GmbH and Infoterra GmbH in a PPP (Public Private Partnership) consortium. The mission concept is based on a second TerraSAR-X (TSX) radar satellite flying in close formation to achieve the desired interferometric baselines in a highly reconfigurable constellation. A contract to build the TanDEM-X spacecraft was signed in September 2006 between DLR and EADS Astrium.

The primary goal of the innovative TanDEM-X/TerraSAR-X constellation is the generation of a global, consistent, timely and high-precision DEM (Digital Elevation Model), corresponding to the HRTE-3 (High Resolution Terrain Elevation, level-3) model specifications (12 m posting, 2 m relative height accuracy for flat terrain). The HRTE-3/HRTI-3 models were defined by NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency), Washington, D. C. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9)

The achievable DEM height accuracy has been confirmed in Phase A by a detailed performance analysis taking into account all major system and scene parameters like the finite radiometric sensitivity of the individual radar sensors, co-registration and processing errors, range and azimuth ambiguities, baseline and Doppler decorrelation, the strength and orientation of surface and vegetation scattering, quantization errors, temporal and volume decorrelation, baseline estimation errors and the chosen independent post-spacing (horizontal resolution). 10) 11)

For generating the global DEM, roughly 300 TByte of raw data will be acquired using a network of ground receiving stations. Processing to DEM products requires advanced multi-baseline techniques and involves mosaicking and a sophisticated calibration scheme on a continental scale.

Beyond its primary mission objective of generating a global HRTI-3 DEM, TanDEM-X provides a configurable SAR interferometry platform for demonstrating new SAR techniques and applications, such as digital beamforming, single-pass polarimetric SAR interferometry, ATI (Along-Track Interferometry) with varying baseline, or super resolution. Close formation flight collision avoidance becomes a major issue and a new orbit concept based on a double helix formation has been developed to ensure a safe orbit separation.


Background: In the time frame 2007, the global coverage with topographic data at sufficiently high spatial resolution is inadequate or simply not available for scientific and governmental use. The first step to meet the requirements of the scientific community for a homogenous, highly reliable DEM with DTED-2 specifications was SRTM (Shuttle Radar Topography Mission), launch Feb. 11, 2000. SRTM, representing the first spaceborne single-pass interferometer, was built by supplementing the Shuttle Imaging Radar-C/X-Synthetic Aperture Radar system by second receive antennas mounted at the tip of a 60 m deployable mast structure. Within a ten day mission, SRTM collected interferometric data for a near global DTED-2 (Digital Terrain Elevation Data Level 2) land surface coverage. DTED-2 is the current basic high resolution elevation data source for all military activities and civil systems that require landform, slope, elevation, and/or terrain roughness in a digital format. DTED-2 is a uniform gridded matrix of terrain elevation values with post spacing of one arc second (approximately 30 m). SRTM mapped the Earth between 60 N and 56 S; however, there are still wide gaps, in particular at the lower latitudes.

The TanDEM-X/TerraSAR-X (TDX/TSX) constellation has the potential to close these gaps, to fulfil the requirements of a global homogeneous and high-resolution coverage of all land areas thereby providing the vital information for a variety of applications. The high-precision DEM models are of utmost interest for the civil and military communities, representing the basis for all modern navigation applications.



HRTI-3 definition


Relative vertical accuracy

90% linear point-to-point error over a 1º x 1º cell

2 m (slope ≤ 20%)
4 m (slope ≥ 20%)

12 m (slope < 20%)
15 m (slope > 20%)

Absolute vertical accuracy

90% linear error

10 m

18 m

Relative horizontal accuracy

90% circular error

3 m

15 m

Horizontal accuracy

90% circular error

10 m

23 m

Spatial resolution

Independent pixels

12 m (1 arcsec)

30 m (1 arcsec)

Table 1: DEM specification for HRTE/HRTI level 3 standard - and comparison with DTED-2 model

Figure 1 gives an overview of DEM-level coverage estimates of various observation technologies in the different HRTI classes. It should be noted that a surface area of 150 x 106 km2 represents a global coverage of Terra Firma (i.e., all land areas).


Figure 1: DEM-level versus coverage indicating the uniqueness of the global TanDEM-X HRTI-3 product (image credit: DLR)



Mission concept:

The TanDEM-X mission concept is based on an extension the TerraSAR-X mission by a second almost identical satellite, namely TanDEM-X. Flying the two satellites in a close formation with typical cross-track distances of 300-500 m provide a flexible single-pass SAR interferometer configuration, where the baseline can be selected according to the specific needs of the application. 12) 13) 14) 15) 16) 17) 18) 19) 20) 21) 22) 23)

The SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) instruments of TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X are fully compatible, both offer transmit and receive capabilities along with polarimetry. These features provide a maximum of flexibility in supporting operational services (acquisition of highly accurate cross-track and along-track interferograms without the inherent accuracy limitations imposed by repeat-pass interferometry) and in data product quality. The following basic interferometric SAR (InSAR) observational modes are available (Figures 2 and -3):

1) Bistatic mode where the SAR instruments of both spacecraft look into a common footprint thus providing different views of the observed target area (Note: bistatic InSAR is characterized by the simultaneous measurement of the same scene and overlapping Doppler spectra with 2 receivers, avoiding temporal decorrelation; PRF synchronization and relative phase referencing between the satellites are mandatory). - One satellite serves as a transmitter and both satellites record the scattered signal simultaneously. In this tandem configuration, both spacecraft fly in a close orbit formation. The baseline of this configuration can be selected according to the specific needs of the application. This enables the acquisition of highly accurate single-pass cross-track and/or along-track interferograms without the inherent accuracy limitations imposed by repeat-pass interferometry due to temporal decorrelation and atmospheric disturbances.

2) Pursuit monostatic mode where both satellites are operated independently avoiding the need for synchronization; hence, both SAR instruments look acquire data from the same swath with a short time difference of a few seconds corresponding to an along-track distance of 30-50 km. Different to conventional repeat-pass (i.e., two‐pass or multi‐pass) InSAR observations, the temporal decorrelation is still small for most terrain types with the exception of ocean surfaces and vegetation in the case of moderate to high wind speeds.

3) Alternating bistatic mode is similar to bistatic mode, but the transmitter is switched from pulse to pulse between the two satellites.

The baseline for operational DEM generation is the bistatic mode which minimizes temporal decorrelation and uses efficiently the transmit power. This mode uses either TSX or TDX as a transmitter to illuminate a common radar footprint on the Earth's surface. The scattered signal is then recorded by both satellites simultaneously. This simultaneous data acquisition makes dual use of the available transmit power and is mandatory to avoid possible errors from temporal decorrelation and atmospheric disturbances.

The alternating bistatic mode can be used for phase synchronization, system calibration, and to acquire interferograms with two different phase to height sensitivities; the simultaneously acquired monostatic interferogram has a higher susceptibility to ambiguities especially at high incident angles.

A mission concept has been developed which enables the acquisition/generation of a global DEM within three years. This concept includes multiple data takes with different baselines, different incidence angles, and data takes from ascending and descending orbits to deal with difficult terrain like mountains, valleys, tall vegetation, etc.


Figure 2: Concept of TanDEM-X InSAR observations in bistatic (left) and monostatic (right) modes (image credit: DLR)


Figure 3: Schematic view of the alternating bistatic mode (image credit: DLR)

The TanDEM-X mission concept allocates also sufficient acquisition time and satellite resources to secondary mission objectives which cover the following application spectrum:

• Moving target indication with a distributed four aperture displaced phase centre system

• The measurement of ocean currents and the detection of ice drift by along-track interferometry

• High resolution SAR imaging based on a baseline-induced shift of the Doppler and range spectra (super-resolution)

• The derivation of vegetation parameters with polarimetric SAR interferometry

• Large baseline bistatic SAR imaging for improved scene classification, as well as localized very high-resolution DEM generation based on spotlight interferometry.

• Demonstration of high resolution wide-swath SAR imaging with four-phase-center digital beamforming.

In short, the TanDEM-X mission concept encompasses enabling technologies in a number of ways, including the first demonstration of a bistatic interferometric satellite formation in space, as well as the first close formation flight in operational mode. Several new SAR techniques will also be demonstrated for the first time, such as digital beamforming (DBF) with two satellites, single-pass polarimetric SAR interferometry, as well as single-pass along-track interferometry with varying baseline. 24)


Figure 4: Artist's view of bistatic observation by the TanDEM-X configuration (image credit: EADS Astrium)


TanDEM orbits:

Close formation flight of TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X. The TerraSAR-X spacecraft remains its sun-synchronous dawn-dusk orbit with the following parameters: mean altitude of 515 km, inclination = 97.44º, local equatorial crossing time at 18 hours on the ascending node, nominal revisit period of 11 days (167 orbits in the repeat, 15 2/11 orbits/day. 25) 26) 27) 28) 29) 30) 31)

For setting up the effective baseline, TanDEM-X is separated from TerraSAR-X in the right ascension of the ascending node. This will span a horizontal baseline, which will be adjusted between 200 m and 3000 m to achieve the effective baselines required for DEM-acquisition at different latitudes. An additional vertical separation at the northern and southern turns is achieved by a relative shift of the eccentricity vectors of the satellites. The result is a complete separation of the two satellite orbits called Helix-formation, which enables a safe operation of close formations with minimum collision risk. Such a Helix formation with an offset in eccentricity vectors and a separation in the right ascension of the ascending node is shown in Figure 2.

The TanDEM-X operational scenario requires a coordinated operation of two satellites flying in close formation. Several options have been investigated and the Helix satellite formation has finally been selected. The helix configuration allows maintaining a relatively small distance between both satellites while at the same time avoiding the collision risk at the poles. This formation combines an out-of-plane orbital displacement (e.g. by different ascending nodes) with a radial (vertical) separation (e.g. by different eccentricity vectors) resulting in a helix-like relative movement of the satellites along the orbit. Since there exists no crossing of the satellite orbits, it is now possible to arbitrarily shift the satellites along their orbits, e.g. to adjust very small along-track baselines at predefined latitudes and to allow safe spacecraft operation without autonomous control.

The Helix orbit for close formation flight, involving the maintenance of baselines of a cluster of spacecraft in orbit for cross-track and along-track interferometric observations, has been patented by DLR. The inventors are: Alberto Moreira, Gerhard Krieger, and Josef Mittermayer.

1) European Patent Office, Patent No: EP 1 273 518 A2 of Jan. 8, 2003. Title: "Satellitenkonfiguration zur interferometrischen und/oder tomographischen Abbildung der Erdoberfläche mittels Radar mit synthetischer Apertur."

2) US Patent No: US 6,677,884 B2 of Jan. 13, 2004. Title: "Satellite Configuration for Interferometric and/or Tomographic Remote Sensing by Means of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)."


Figure 5: Illustration of the Helix orbit configuration of both spacecraft (image credit: DLR)


Figure 6: Helical shape of interferometric baseline during one orbit (image credit: DLR)

The HELIX formation enables a complete coverage of the Earth with a stable height of ambiguity by using a small number of formations (e.g. ΔΩ ={300 m, 400 m, 500 m} and Δe ={300 m, 500 m}, where `Ω' is the right ascension of the ascending node, and `e' is the eccentricity. Baseline fine tuning can be achieved by taking advantage of the natural rotation of the eccentricity vectors due to secular disturbances and fixing the eccentricity vectors at different relative phasings. Since there exists no crossing of the satellite orbits, it is possible to arbitrarily shift the satellites along their orbits, e.g. to adjust very small along-track baselines at predefined latitudes and to allow safe spacecraft operation without autonomous control.

An appropriate reference scenario has been derived which enables one complete coverage of the Earth with baselines corresponding to a height of ambiguity of ca. 35 m within 1 year assuming a bistatic acquisition in stripmap mode with an average acquisition time of 140 s per orbit.

Both high precision orbit determination (POD) and interferometric baseline vector determination of the tandem configuration will be accomplished by means of the GPS-based TOR (Tracking, Occultation and Ranging) device, a dual-frequency receiver, which will be provided by GFZ as for TerraSAR-X.

Coarse orbit control and maintenance of the tandem configuration will be done as part of the regular maintenance maneuvers using thrusters. Fine-tuning of the Helix of the TanDEM-X satellite will be performed using additional cold gas thrusters.

TanDEM-X formation flight: The Helix formation geometry implies maximum out-of-plane (cross-track) orbit separation at the equator crossings and maximum radial separation at the poles. This is realized by small ascending node differences and by slightly different eccentricity vectors, respectively, as depicted in Figure 7. This concept of relative eccentricity / inclination vector separation results in a Helix-like relative motion of the satellites along the orbit and provides a maximum level of passive safety in case of a vanishing along-track separation. 32)


Figure 7: Formation building with relative eccentricity / inclination vector separation (image credit: DLR)

Legend to Figure 7: From left to right: (1) identical orbits, (2) maximum horizontal separation at equator crossings by a small offset in the ascending node (green arrow), (3) a small eccentricity offset causes different heights of perigee / apogee and hence yields a maximum radial separation at the poles. (4) Optional rotation of the argument of perigee to achieve larger baselines at high latitude regions.




During the development phase of the TerraSAR-X spacecraft, the TanDEM-X mission concept became a vision. However, a realization of the vision of two SAR missions in orbit could only have a chance with a necessary minimum extension of the SAR design on TerraSAR-X to support the synchronized operation of both radars. 'Minimum' meant that the TerraSAR-X schedule was not endangered and was further constrained to allow a cost-effective 1:1 rebuild approach for the SAR on TanDEM-X. 33)

For the spacecraft bus, the approach was constrained by only allowing software changes on TerraSAR-X. The bus design on TanDEM-X was extended to allow formation flight of both satellites - with TanDEM-X as the 'Master of the Constellation.' Particularly the bus hardware extensions were constrained by the tight schedule leading to strong orientation on existing hardware designs. The software changes are being verified during the TanDEM-X on-ground tests and will be uplinked to TerraSAR-X in preparation for the constellation flight.

Like the TerraSAR-X (TSX) satellite, the TanDEM-X (TDX) satellite is based on a mission-tailored AstroBus service module and a radar instrument developed according to the AstroSAR concept. Main differences to the TerraSAR-X satellite are the more sophisticated cold gas propulsion system to allow for constellation control, the additional S-band receiver to enable for reception of status and GPS position information broadcasted by TerraSAR-X, and the X-band intersatellite link for phase referencing between the TSX and TDX radars (the required modifications on the TSX spacecraft have already been implemented).


Figure 8: Artist's view of the TanDEM-X spacecraft (image credit: DLR)

The outer shape of the spacecraft is mainly driven by the accommodation of the X-band radar instrument, the body mounted solar array and the geometrical limitations given by the Dnepr-1 launcher fairing. A standard S-band TT&C system with full spherical coverage in uplink and downlink is used for satellite command reception and telemetry transmission.

An additional intersatellite S-band receiver, operating at the TerraSAR-X downlink frequency, will allow for the reception of status and GPS position information broadcasted by TerraSAR-X. It provides a 1-way link with which TanDEM-X can receive real-time position and velocity data from TerraSAR-X from its nominal 1-frequency GPS receiver. The TanDEM-X OBC (On-Board Computer) software uses such data from both satellites to generate a collision warning flag. Furthermore, this data is used by the TAFF (TanDEM-X Autonomous Formation Flying) algorithm running on the OBC (see Ref. 37).

Nominally, formation flying will be under ground control. The TAFF algorithm will be tested open-loop during the commissioning phase and could then become the standard approach for the constellation phases. The ISLR (Intersatellite Link Receiver) is laid out to receive the TerraSAR-X S-band transmissions in low power mode. It is cold redundant with each receiver/decoder cross-strapped to two patch antennas. This layout keeps contact gaps to less than 15 minutes in addition to an interruption imposed by the nominal high rate S-band contact with the ground station.

The OBC is a fully redundant unit that aims at performing the onboard data handling and the attitude and control functions on the satellites. The processor module in based on the ERC32, clocked at 40 MHz, and ensures an execution of software with a processing capability of more than 10 MIPS. The internal RAM memory comprises 6 MByte, with 4 MByte used nominally and 2 MByte reserved for the implementation of a cold redundancy.

The TanDEM-X attitude control system is based on reaction wheels for fine-pointing with magnet torquers for wheel de-saturation. A combined hydrazine/cold-gas propulsion system allows for orbit maintenance and rapid rate damping during initial acquisition. Attitude and orbit measurement is performed with a GPS/Star Tracker system during nominal operation and a CESS (Coarse Earth and Sun Sensor) in safe mode situations and during the initial acquisition. A combination of laser gyro and magnetometer allows for rate measurements in all mission phases.

CGS (Cold Gas Propulsion System): The CGS on TanDEM-X is of CryoSat-2 heritage and uses a high pressure tank of nitrogen gas. This provides small thruster impulses fitting the needs for constellation flight. There are 2 redundant branches each culminating in 2 redundant pairs of thrusters mounted on the satellite in each of the ± flight directions. A formation flight maneuver involves operation of a pair of thrusters in one of these directions.

The TanDEM-X spacecraft has a launch mass of about 1340 kg (payload mass of 400 kg); the nominal design life is five years after the end of the commissioning phase (estimated to be 3 months); the satellite consumables will last for 6.5 years after commissioning.

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between DLR and EADS Astrium has been extended to cover the design, build, launch, commissioning and operation of the TanDEM-X spacecraft. Like TerraSAR-X, TanDEM-X is a dual-purpose (scientific and commercial) Earth observation mission, providing its data services to the science (DLR) and to the non-science communities (Infoterra). This shared approach makes the program affordable to all parties of interest.


Figure 9: TanDEM-X in the satellite integration center at IABG (image credit: DLR, EADS Astrium)


Launch: The TanDEM-X spacecraft was launched successfully on June 21, 2010 on a Dnepr-1 launch vehicle with a 1.5 m long fairing extension. The launch provider is ISC Kosmotras, the launch site is the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. 34) 35)

RF communications: A standard S-band TT&C system with 360º coverage in uplink and downlink is used for satellite command reception and housekeeping telemetry transmission. The uplink path is encrypted. Generated payload (SAR) data are stored onboard in a SSMM (Solid State Mass Memory) unit of 768 Gbit EOL capacity prior to transmission via the XDA (X-band Downlink Assembly) at a data rate of 300 Mbit/s. The X-band downlink is encrypted.

The on-board SAR raw data are compressed using the BAQ (Block Adaptive Quantization) algorithm, a standard SAR procedure. The compression factor is selectable between 8/6, 8/4, 8/3 or 8/2 (more efficient techniques can only be applied to processed SAR imagery). Both communication links are designed according to the ESA CCSDS Packet Telemetry Standard.


Rebuild of the TerraSAR-X satellite which was based on the Astrium Flexbus concept and extensive heritage from the CHAMP and GRACE missions


- X-band downlink horn antenna is mounted at the tip of a 3.3 m long boom
- SSMM (Solid State Mass Memory) data storage with a capacity of 768 Gbit (EOL)
- High-pressure nitrogen gas propulsion system for formation flying

Spacecraft launch mass

1340 kg (spacecraft: 1220 kg, fuel: 120 kg)

Spacecraft size

5 m length, 2.4 m diameter (hexagonal cross section)

Spacecraft design life

5 years nominal (after the end of the commissioning phase)

RF communications

- X-band of 300 Mbit/s link of payload data downlink with DQPSK modulation;
- S-band uplink of 4 kbit/s (2025-2110 MHz), BPSK modulation; S-band downlink of 32 kbit/s to 1 Mbit/s (2200-2400 MHz), BPSK modulation

Primary payload

Secondary payloads

- TDX-SAR instrument is identical to the TSX-SAR (TerraSAR-X SAR instrument)
in layout, operational performance and support modes.
- TOR (Tracking, Occultation and Ranging)
- LCT (Laser Communication Terminal)
- LRR (Laser Retroreflector)

Table 2: Overview of the TanDEM-X spacecraft parameters 36)

TAFF (TanDEM-X Autonomous Formation Flying)

TAFF is navigation and formation flying software package developed at DLR/GSOC. The overall objective of TAFF is to ease the ground and space operations. Its accurate orbit control performance facilitates the synchronization of the two SAR systems via dedicated horns. In fact the positions of the satellites will be known with a good precision well in advance of real operations. TAFF will enable a safe and robust formation control with minimum collision risk. 37) 38) 39)

On top of ensuring a stable and more precise baseline for SAR interferometry, TAFF will enhance the exploitation of along-track interferometry techniques. Along-track interferometry is enabled by a special configuration of the formation which provides dedicated osculating along-track separations at desired locations along the orbit. This method improves the detection, localization and the signal ambiguity resolution for ground moving targets and can be used for traffic monitoring applications. Furthermore real-time collision risk assessments will be performed by TAFF on a routine basis in order to support automated FDIR (Fault Detection Isolation and Recovery) tasks.

Two GPS receivers are installed on each spacecraft. The dual-frequency IGOR GPS receiver of BroadReach Inc., which serves exclusively scientific purposes, and the single frequency MosaicGNSS receiver of EADS Astrium, whose navigation data are used by TAFF.

A one-way intersatellite link (ISL) is being implemented between the two satellites, using the existing S-band downlink system on TSX and an additional receiver on TDX. The link is designed to function properly up to distances of a few km (ca. 2-5 km).


Figure 10: Overview of the ground and space segments and their interface to TAFF (image credit: DLR)

The TAFF software package resides in the OBC of the TDX spacecraft. TAFF gets as inputs the GPS data provided by the GPS receiver onboard TDX and, through the ISL, also from the GPS receiver data onboard the TSX. TAFF uses the CGS (Cold Gas Propulsion System) to control the formation and performs in-plane control maneuvers in the flight and anti-flight directions only.

The in-flight performance validation of the experimental autonomous formation keeping system embarked by the German TanDEM-X formation has been performed during a 12-day-long closed-loop campaign conducted in June 2012. Relative control performance better than 10 m was achieved, demonstrating that a significant gain of performance can be achieved when the control of the formation is done autonomously on-board instead of on-ground. Furthermore, the formation keeping system was shown to be operationally robust, easy to operate and fully predictable, i.e. fully suited for routine mission operations. This campaign concludes successfully a series of validation activities, opening new doors to future innovative scientific TanDEM-X experiments for which enhanced formation control is required.

TAFF is the first onboard autonomous formation keeping system ever employed on a high-cost scientific formation flying mission with routine data acquisition. As such, it has to face inherent natural fears and reluctance to rely on onboard autonomy for critical activities like formation maintenance. TAFF aims at making evolving the minds by proving that a proper design of the formation (passively safe) as well as a smart implementation of the onboard navigation software (robust navigation and control, internal safety mechanisms) can guarantee simple, accurate and safe formation keeping.

Table 3: Inflight performance test of TAFF 40)



Figure 11: Illustration of the spaceborne DGPS tracking scheme (image credit: DLR)


Figure 12: Photo of the MosaicGNSS (left) and IGOR (right) devices (image credit: DLR)

Parameter / Instrument

MosaicGNSS (EADS Astrium)

IGOR (BroadReach Inc.)

GPS tracking capability

8 channels L1

16 x 3 channels L1/L2

Raw data

C/A: 5 m
L1: 3 mm

C/A, P(Y) 0.2 m
L1, L2: 1 mm

Power consumption

10 W

15 W

Radiation tolerance

35 krad

12 krad

Table 4: Key parameters of the onboard GPS receivers


Formation Flight and Safety measures:

The requirement of a configurable close formation between TSX and TDX arises from the need for a SAR interferometer in space. The satellites fly in almost identical orbits whereby the position of TDX describes a helix around the trajectory of TSX. This is achieved by separation of the relative eccentricity and inclination vector. The maximal radial separation is reached over the poles (vertical baseline typically between 200 - 500 m) and the maximum separation in normal direction occurs at the equator (horizontal baseline typically 200 – 500 m; see Figure 5). In this way, it can be assured that the radial and normal separation never become zero at the same time. The shape of the helix depends upon the mission phase. The formation with the smallest baseline had a minimum separation of 150 m. Orbit correction maneuvers are carried out with the hydrazine propulsion system simultaneously on both spacecraft with exactly the same ΔV. Additionally formation keeping maneuvers are needed to compensate the drift of the relative e-vector that arises from the J2-perturbation (Ref. 31). These maneuvers are made only on TDX with the cold gas system. 41) 42)

Thrusters were originally planned to be the prime actuators during non-nominal situations in AOCS safe mode. The experience with TSX showed, however, that the design with the thrusters mounted at the back of the satellite is far from ideal for flight in close formation. Analyses showed a collision risk of 1/500 due to orbit changes in case of a drop to the thruster based safe mode. 43)The reason is that just a minor part of the thrust is available for attitude control, whereas the major part is changing the orbit in an unpredictable way. - Hence, a second type of safe mode was implemented with the intention to control the attitude without changing the orbit. The so-called ASM-MTQ (Acquisition and Safe Mode-Magnetorquer) only uses the magnetic torque rods as actuators, whereas it still relies on CESS, magnetometer and IMU as sensors, just like the original ASM-RCS (Acquisition and Safe Mode-Reaction Control System).

However, the damping of the rotation rates and the recovery of the attitude takes longer in ASM-MTQ than in ASM-RCS due to the weakness of the magnetic field at 514 km altitude. The maximum overall body rate that can be handled are 0.5º/s due to the concept that the torque rods and the magnetometers are operated in alternation to allow disturbance free measurements of the Earth's magnetic field.

The new FDIR (Fault detection, Isolation and Recovery) design intends to always use the magnetorquer based safe mode first when a severe anomaly has been detected. There are performance limitations in ASM-MTQ as mentioned above, and it might still become necessary to make use of the conventional but more powerful ASM-RCS. The latter will only be used if the continuation of the mission is seriously endangered. A possible scenario would be the battery voltage dropping below a certain value, a star tracker getting too hot or non-convergence of the attitude after three orbits. The thruster on-time is limited at first instance to make sure that the generated ΔV cannot lead to a collision of the satellites. A reboot of the on-board computer will follow in the worst case scenario when despite of limited use of the thrusters, no convergence was reached. The spacecraft will come up after the reboot in ASM-MTQ again, but this time with wider power/thermal limits. However, the described sequence will be tried only once. If there is still no convergence or the power/thermal limits are yet violated, the spacecraft will be sent by FDIR to ASM-RCS once more, but this time without limitations to the thruster on-time. 44)

The ISL (Inter-Satellite Link) is also used for surveillance, but is subject to some limitations. In the first place, the link only works in one direction and in the second, the connection is interrupted anytime the transmitter of TSX or TDX is switched to high-rate for ground station contacts. Therefore it is seen more as an extra safety rather than the part to rely on completely. The ISL is used to transmit some essential parameters of TSX (including GPS position and velocity) to TDX in order to feed TAFF algorithms (Tandem Autonomous Formation Flight).

AOCS surveillance: The most vital AOCS parameters, such as sensor performance, attitude errors, actuator commands, etc. are monitored on-board. In case of severe anomalies FDIR can react immediately and switch to the redundant hardware. During ground station contacts, a large number of parameters are checked in the mission control system against pre-defined limit settings and violations are indicated by yellow or red flags. The dump files (data covering also the time span in between ground station contacts) are screened with the same limit settings, and violations are reported by email. The events will subsequently be analyzed and it is then decided if they can be disregarded or if a threat to the satellite is developing.