Current use of linux in spacecraft flight software

Hannu Leppinen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Spacecraft on-board computers are responsible for controlling the spacecraft platform, payloads, or other on-board devices. Their mission-specific software allows communication with ground or other on-board computers. Traditionally, on-board software has been written close to the hardware in assembly language, Ada, C, or C++, with or without a real-time operating system (RTOS) [1]. As the spacecraft computer hardware capabilities are increasing, spacecraft software is becoming larger and more complex, handling more tasks from payload data processing to landing a first stage of a launch vehicle on an ocean-going barge. Spacecraft will still continue to include very small embedded systems that can be developed without operating systems (OS), but some systems will also have large software bases, requiring efficient software development processes and reuse of existing software modules. The last decade has seen increasing use of Linux in spacecraft on-board software. This article presents common features of spacecraft on-board computers and software and discusses potential benefits and drawbacks of on-board Linux use. The focus of this article is on spacecraft on-board avionics software, that is, spacecraft- controlling code that flies into orbit with the spacecraft. Other types of computers are not included in this analysis; for example, many laptops on the International Space Station run Linux [2].

Original languageEnglish
Article number8170152
Pages (from-to)4-13
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Magazine
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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