NASA’s next Moon Rover will run the open source software

However, the aerospace industry has spread in a very small part because of the demand to increase access to space. And that means using less expensive and more accessible technologies, including software.

Even for larger groups like NASA, where money is no problem, the open source approach can result in powerful software. “I would say right now, the flight software is quite medium in space,” said Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings. (Case in point: Boeing’s Starliner test flight failure in 2019, which was Due to software glits.) If it is open source, amateur developers solve such problems, but intelligent scientists can still gain skills and feedback from a larger community.

Basically, if it’s good enough for NASA, it probably should be good enough for someone who is trying to run a robot off this planet. With a growing number of new companies and New national agency All over the world Trying to launch their own satellites and probes into space while cutting costs, cheap robotic software that can confidently handle something risky like any space mission is a huge boon.

Open-source software can further help get the space cheaper because it leads to standards that everyone can adopt and work with. You can eliminate the high costs associated with specialized coding. Open source frameworks are usually new engineers already working with. “If we can just take advantage of this and extend what we have learned in school to what they use in flight missions, this will shorten the learning curve,” said Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Deputy Lead of the Mountain View and VIPR Mission in California. “Research makes things faster for us to make progress in the world and bring it down in flight.”

NASA has been using open source software in many research and development projects for about 10 to 15 years – the agency keeps very Extensive catalog The open-source code used it. However, the role of this technology in real robots sent into space is still smooth. One system tested by the agency is the robot operating system, a collection of open source software frameworks maintained and updated by the nonprofit Open Robotics, which is also headquartered in Mountain View. Helped, as well as autonomous Astroby robot The buzz around the ISS to help astronauts run their daily work.

The Astroby robot from the International Space Station runs on ROS.


The ROS will be running and will facilitate some important issues known as “ground flight control”. VIPIR is going to be driven by NASA staff who will handle things from Earth. Ground flight control will take data collected by VIPR to create real-time maps and environmental rendering on the moon that rover drivers can use to navigate safely. Other parts of Rover’s software also have open source roots: Basic functions such as telemetry and memory management are run by a program called Online by a program called Core Flight System (CFS), Developed by NASA itself and Available for free on GitHub. Conducts VIPER’s mission activities outside the rover by Open MCT, Also built by NASA.

Compared to Mars, the lunar environment is very difficult to physically mimic on Earth, which means it is not easy to test the hardware and software components of the rover. For this mission, Fong says, leaning more on digital simulations made it more understandable that Rover could test many components – and that includes open source software.

Another reason for the mission to use open source software is that the moon is close enough for real-time control of the rover, which means that some of the software itself does not have to be in the rover and can run on Earth instead.

“We decided to split the robot’s brain between the moon and the earth,” Fong said. “And as we do this, it opens up the possibility that we can use software that is not limited to radiation, hard flight, computing, instead we can only use off-the-shelf product commercial desktops. So we can use things like ROS on the ground, which so many people use so regularly. We don’t just have to rely on custom software. “

VIPR does not run on 100% open source software – for example, its online flight system uses highly trusted proprietary software. But what VIPR will do is make it easier to take on and expand future missions. “I suspect that NASA’s next rover will probably run Linux,” Fong said.

In all cases, it will never be possible to use open source software. Security concerns can be a problem and some parties may rely entirely on proprietary technology (although one plus of open-source platforms is that developers are often very general in finding bugs and suggesting patches). And Fong further stressed that some missions will always be highly specialized or advanced relying more on open source technology.

Yet, it’s not just NASA that’s leaning towards the open-source community. Neil Origin recently announced “Code Robotic Intelligence and Autonomy” partnerships with several NASA groups. Built from the open-source framework (The company declined to provide details). Like small enterprises Liber Space Foundation Located in Greece, which provides open source hardware and software for small satellite operations, Spaceflight is forced to receive more attention due to its low cost. “There’s a domino effect,” says Brian Garkey, chief executive of Open Robotics. “Once you are told publicly by a larger organization like NASA, ‘We rely on this software,’ then other organizations dig the opportunity to work for them and are interested in doing the job.”

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