According to a press release I have received from Wind River, a Device Software Optimisation (DSO) company, a Linux platform has been selected by Honeywell Aerospace for a space mission for the first time.

Wind River Platform for Network Equipment, Linux Edition, will be the underlying OS supporting the processing of science and experiment data onboard the NASA New Millennium Program Space Technology 8 (ST8) spacecraft. The ST8 mission is scheduled for launch in November 2009, with an expected duration of at least seven months consisting of two phases, including a one-month commissioning phase and a six-month experiment phase. The mission consists of four independent experiments, including the Dependable Multiprocessor on a common spacecraft bus being provided by Orbital Sciences Corporation. The Dependable Multiprocessor experiment will validate a computer system architectural approach that allows application flexibility by applying robust control of the high performance COTS cluster, enhanced software-based SEU (Single Event Upset) tolerance, and user-selectable redundancy only to the level required by the environment and the criticality of the task or computation.

Developing a Dependable Multiprocessor promises to be a game-changing technology that will create a new generation of smart spacecraft and robotics for future exploration missions conducted by NASA. Composed of a state-of-the-art commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based supercomputer architecture capable of incorporating both on-chip and FPGA-based algorithmic co-processors, Dependable Multiprocessor technology can autonomously and adaptively configure the level of fault tolerance applied to the COTS-based computer system in response to constantly changing mission environments and the criticality of the mission application. The Dependable Multiprocessor will allow the spacecraft to process and analyse its own data to make instant decisions about what is observed without having to send the information to Earth and wait for a reply.

The Wind River Platform for Network Equipment contains a fully tested and validated Linux distribution based on Linux 2.6 kernel technology. It is an open, cross-build system, leveraging "pristine source" packages and managing individual patches to transparently build the Linux run-time distribution for a specific device.

"Honeywell is pleased to work with Wind River in the development of our Dependable Multiprocessor," said Dr. John R. Samson, Jr., Principal Engineering Fellow at Honeywell Defense and Space. "As space missions continue to become more complex and demanding, it is critical that the onboard computing equipment be built to handle the intense data processing and analysis that is required. As a result of the demonstration of COTS in the ST8 flight experiment, the application of Dependable Multiprocessor technology is expected to yield unparalleled benefits for years to come, particularly in the reduction of development time, cost, and risk of future space systems."

"One of the biggest challenges when developing a dependable multiprocessor is enabling a COTS board to work in the harsh conditions in space," said Rob Hoffman, Vice President and General Manager, Aerospace & Defense at Wind River. "Wind River is thrilled to have been selected by Honeywell for such an incredible project. Customers like Honeywell continue to choose Wind River technology because of our ability to provide dependable, reliable, and most importantly, thoroughly-tested software solutions."

The harsh conditions mentioned in Bill's report are primarily the cosmic rays the silicon components of a computer are exposed to in space. A cosmic ray is a fast moving proton ejected from the sun. If one hits a register it can cause a cascade of ionisation that can flip a bit (i.e. a 1 becomes a 0).

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