Open-source code and its role in spaceflight software is one of many interesting topics to be discussed at the Flight Software Workshop this week. Here NASA JPL developers tell EE Times what's in the code.
The Spacecraft Flight Software Workshop is set to begin Dec. 10. If you are going to be in the area, there are still a few seats left for the event. You can probably grab a seat if you register quickly enough. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend, but I did get a chance to talk to a couple of people about some interesting things that might be discussed there.
I spoke with Amalaye Oyake, part of the Instrument Product Software Development Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Caleb Kraft: Can you recap how the workshop started for me?
Amalaye Oyake: A bunch of us used to attend CCSDS meetings, the over-arching standards body for anything space-related. Pretty much any computer-related interface and its software is defined by this organization. All international agencies that try to be in space use their standards. We would find ourselves in the hallways at these events, talking about software issues we were trying to solve. We would spend so much time doing this that we thought, "Hey, why don't we have our own workshop to talk about problems and trends?"
Caleb Kraft: What kind of software are you guys talking about?
Amalaye Oyake: A lot of people don't know what operating systems spacecrafts use. The majority of them use VX Works from Wind River. The rest of the American ones use QNX or Greenhill's OS, called Integrity. On the European side, they use RTEMS, a free and open-source package. Pretty much all European space agencies use the open-source OS.
Caleb Kraft: Can you tell me more about what aspects of software you discuss at the event? Who will be talking?
Amalaye Oyake: The community of people who work in developing flight software is fairly small, so they all know each other and share very similar problems and issues. All presentations are generic -- no ITAR, no missile guidance or anything. We discuss questions like "How do you develop a file system? What level of ECC is enough? How do you do onboard networking? Middleware in space? Message passing?"
The workshop will always be free and have high-quality speakers. Vint Cerf from Google talked about Internet in space. This year, we have James Gosling as keynote on the last day. There is an expert in software development named Gerard Holzmann. He has given two or three presentations on the importance of software reliability, showing the growth of number of lines of code of software on board spacecraft. The lunar lander has between 10 and 20 thousand lines of code. He's going to be a keynote speaker again. We get together, look at Powerpoint all day, and eat pizza and drink coffee. We've had some really great presentations, and our community has really benefited from getting to know one another.
Caleb Kraft: Is there anything you're doing different this year that is exciting?
Amalaye Oyake: Actually, we have a sponsor this year. We're going to be giving away a BeagleBoard development kit at the end of each day to one lucky raffle winner. I think people are really going to enjoy that aspect. It is a fun treat to be able to supply.
The workshop is free, and anyone can register on the site. It is a forum for greybeards, wizards, and gurus happening Dec. 10-12.
I also interviewed with David Smyth, principal flight software engineer at Millennium Space Systems. I wanted to ask him about the open-source comments that Oyake had mentioned. I was previously unaware that open-source software was common in space programs.
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