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Linux lands on Mars – A victory for open-source

by Nitish.S
NASA Perseverance Mars Rover

In one of humankind’s historical moments, Linux-powered Perseverance Mars Rover has made a successful landing on Mars. Its landing software is powered by Linux – and open-source software that has been touted for its safety.

Tim Canham mentioned the importance of Linux in the Perseverance Mars Rover success to Mars. In discussion with IEEE Spectrum, the Mars Helicopter Operations Lead at NASA’s Propulsion Laboratory said that “This is the first time we’ll be flying Linux on Mars.” He also touted how it was important for the team to use a proven and safe.

The NASA expert was also not shy away from saying that, “It’s kind of an open-source victory.”

The live telecast of the Perseverance Mars Rover making it to the land was watched by 2 million people on YouTube. The whole scene was mesmerizing and beautiful.

The @NASAPersevere even tweeted its high-resolution photo directly from MARS.

Apart from that, there is also a flight software framework used in Ingenuity, a tiny helicopter tucked under Perseverance’s Mars rover. The miniature satellites are known as CubeSats.

  • Check out the top 20 uses cases of Linux. Here, you will also find how extensively NASA uses Linux almost everywhere within their systems, ranging from Pleiades supercomputers to Astrobee robots. They switched from Windows to Linux years back as Linux offers more performance reliability than Windows.

The framework behind the autonomous little helicopter is known as F’ (F prime). It is not a new project as JPL open-sourced it few years. The F’ project initially was aimed at small-scale spaceflight systems. With time, it got evolved and became part of autonomous little helicopters.

The F’ framework includes the following:

  • The framework deals with the flight software into well-defined interfaces discrete components.
  • It is a C++ framework that ensures that the device can threads and message queues.
  • It offers tons of ready-to-use components.
  • Comes with testing flight software tools, both at integration and unit levels.
  • The framework can be used to model specific connections and components. It also automatically generate code.

Ingenuity is programmed to survive frigid temperature and can also cope with low power constraints needed to survive harsh Mars conditions. Another interesting aspect of Ingenuity is using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip running at 500 Hz. This means the smartphone you are using is way faster when running a small helicopter on Mars. Timothy Canham mentioned that it might sound prolonged, but in reality, it is more than enough for the Perseverance to work efficiently.

In discussion with IEEE Spectrum, Tim Canham also said that now anyone can access the framework used to fly Mars helicopters.

A win for open source

Open source has always been in the news regarding achieving big things. Microsoft’s stance on open source speaks volumes of how big organizations are changing their stance regarding open-source solutions. NASA has always been a proponent of open source technologies. Right now, NASA has more than 500 projects that are licensed under the NASA Open Source 3.0 license. The NASA Open Source 3.0 license falls under the Open Source Initiative(OSI) approved licenses.

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