Linux and open-source goes to Mars


Linux and open-source goes to Mars

If all goes well, the first flight on Mars will be made by Perseverance Mars rover’s companion drone helicopter, the Linux-powered Ingenuity.

Perseverance hit Mars’ atmosphere at almost 12,000 miles per hour (19,312 kilometers per hour) and a mere seven minutes later NASA landed its latest Mars rover softly and safely. Onboard the one-ton mobile science lab is its tiny flying companion, the drone helicopter Ingenuity. If all goes well, the four-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity will be the first vehicle to ever fly on another world.  At 11-light minutes from Earth, no one will fly the dual-propped Ingenuity with a drone controller. Instead, it will fly itself using a combination of Linux and a NASA-built program based on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) open-source  (pronounced F prime) framework.

This will be no easy task. No one has ever tried to fly on Mars, which has an atmosphere only one-hundredth of the density of Earth’s air. True, Mars also has only a third of Earth’s gravity, but still, Ingenuity’s engineers will be pleased as punch just to get Ingenuity off the ground.

Indeed, Ingenuity is purely a technology demonstration. It’s not designed to support the Perseverance mission, which is searching for signs of ancient life and collecting rock and dirt samples for later missions to return to Earth. Its mission is to show that it’s possible to fly on Mars using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and open-source software.

Timothy Canham, a JPL Embedded Flight Software Engineer, explained the helicopter’s program is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 running at Canham, a JPL Embedded Flight Software Engineer, explained the helicopter’s processor board is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801  a quad-core ARM processor running at 2.2Ghz. While that may sound painfully slow and old, it’s far faster than Perseverance’s processors. That’s because NASA-grade CPUs and chips must meet NASA’s High-Performance Spaceflight Computing (HPSC) radiation standards.  These customized processors take years of design work and testing before they’re certified for spaceflight. For instance, NASA’s newest general-purpose processor is an ARM A53 variant you may know from the Raspberry Pi 3. Ingenuity, however, as a demo project can use a more ordinary, and thus a more modern, CPU.

The flight control software itself runs at 500Hz. That’s Hertz, not MegaHertz, Canham explained to ZDNet, the flight software “is used to control the flight hardware and read sensors 500 times per second in order to keep the helicopter stable.”  Indeed, Canham explained, “we literally ordered parts from SparkFun [Electronics]. This is commercial hardware, but we’ll test it, and if it works well, we’ll use it.”


Lees verder op ZDNet

April 2024
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