The ESA’s recently launched Solar Orbiter will spend years in one of the most unwelcoming places in the Solar System: the Sun. During its mission, Solar Orbiter will get 10 million kilometers closer to the Sun than Mercury. And, mind you, Mercury is close enough to have sustained temperatures reaching 450°C on its Sun-facing surface.
To withstand such temperatures, Solar Orbiter is going to rely on an intricately designed heat shield. This heat shield, however, will protect the spacecraft only when it is pointed directly at the Sun—there is no sufficient protection on the sides or in the back of the probe. So, accordingly, ESA developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) for Solar Orbiter that can act under very strict requirements. The maximum allowed off-pointing from the Sun is only 6.5 degrees. Any off-pointing exceeding 2.3 degrees is acceptable only for a very brief period of time. When something goes wrong and dangerous off-pointing is detected, Solar Orbiter is going to have only 50 seconds to react.
Fascinating look at a piece of software few of us will ever get to work with.
We used the Windriver VxWorks at University in particular robotics. It was a great OS and its the part of my university i loved the most. Coming from a dos/windows background at the time (mid 90’s) it was so strange to use an OS which was also a live dev environment so you could manipulate VAR’s etc.. at the command prompt, like powershell now (and obviously unix’s / unixi? 😀 ).
It was a chore but the one thing i remember the most is debouncing keyboard / input devices on it. lots of fun, we also had Sun workstations that could emulate a Motorola 68000 processor, as well as a workstation that had the processor directly attached to run code against. It was so fascinating to have a problem, solve it through various gates, design it on the sun machine, test it on the hardware and then put it onto the robot (6 wheeled thing like a RC car nothing fancy).
Loved going through every step of the process, never quite got over the fact that whatever the cursor was hovering over was selected in Solaris, pulled my hair out multiple times when i looked up at the screen and realised i’d been typing for nothing.
Sorry nothing of much to add, just rambling’s from an old man of the bygone years hahahaha
Love RTOS, i was really impressed with the 3.5″ demo of the RTOS QNX in the day, couldn’t believe the OS could load from a disk and was that quick. Great article, very interesting read.