July 3, 2007

FlightLinux blasts off again

Author: Tina Gasperson

Patrick Stakem wants everyone to know that the newest iteration of FlightLinux is not just for NASA rocket scientists. The special hardened distribution that earlier this century orbited the Earth on an unmanned satellite is set to move into active duty again, this time as a civilian project.

The original FlightLinux project, which designed an onboard operating system for spacecraft, ended in 2002, but the site remains, with a notation from Stakem: "We are looking for other similar flight opportunities to collaborate with or participate in. Please get in touch." Stakem says he's heard enough from interested parties that he feels confident to start the project again from a more commercial standpoint. "It led me to believe a resurrection made sense," he says.

Stakem relaunched the project on a new domain, openflightlinux.org, not because the original project wasn't open, but "FlightLinux.org remains alive as a NASA Web site, because no one has the authority or funds to take it down," he says. Since the coding was done under the auspices of the government, it is in the public domain, but the paperwork to do a "tech transfer" hasn't made it through the bureaucracy yet. No worries, Stakem says. He's made some developer connections and they're working to recode the project using the Linux From Scratch model.

FlightLinux probably won't appeal to you if you're looking for a "bells and whistles" distribution. It's strictly CLI. "Most spacecraft don't have a really good sound system," Stakem quips. "Our targets are mostly developers and others in the embedded market. We won't have a GUI-based version for a while -- as far as we know."

Stakem and his lead developer, Robert Whetsel, are hoping to attract a community of developers and users to support FlightLinux. They plan to use the Open Business Foundation to recruit "world-class Linux developers," Stakem says. "Rob has met with other developers, and so far, so good. We are on the same page -- synergy, critical mass." The new FlightLinux has already passed the 2.0 release mark, but Stakem still calls it a "developer's version."

Stakem hopes NASA will get involved in the project again. "They are aware of the new efforts," he says. "Of course, their money seeded this, and we will always have a special relationship with NASA. But others are involved in space projects as well. There was just a new Navy Directive on the use of open source software. Not all uses of FlightLinux will be for space projects; small, low-budget university class payloads also use Linux because of the cost. We can build a FlightLinux to address most any problem, given enough money, interest, and time."


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