David Palmer Presents at the 2023 Flight Software Workshop
David Palmer, a Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist and New Mexico Consortium and Pennsylvania State University affiliate, recently presented his work at the 2023 Flight Software Workshop.
This workshop, held at the California Institute of Technology, is for developers of software for satellites and other spacecraft. Software enables almost everything that a modern spacecraft does. This workshop is sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, The Aerospace Corporation, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Southwest Research Institute.
Palmer’s presentation, titled Software for a Space Telescope, Then And Now, covered development of software for the BlackCAT satellite, and comparisons to a previous instrument, the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) on NASA’s Swift mission.
The BAT is a large coded aperture X-ray telescope that was launched in 2004 on NASA’s Swift observatory, a Medium Explorer mission funded by hundreds of millions of dollars. BlackCAT is a small coded aperture X-ray telescope which is scheduled to launch on a CubeSat in 2024 on a 5 million budget. Palmer wrote most of the BAT Science Flight software, but the overall software effort took about a dozen people working full time. In contrast, Palmer has been developing the BlackCAT software with one full-time and one part-time person.
In this work, Palmer and colleagues are radically reducing the software development effort using multiple factors. They use design heritage from the BAT software, and use the open source Core Flight System (cFS) framework which supplies much of the generic functionality that had to be written for BAT. (Indeed, cFS comes from the software group at GSFC/NASA that wrote that part of the BAT code.) This software uses the Rust language, instead of C++98. Also, they use a modern computer, with 50x the CPU power of BAT, so the software implementation can be straightforward instead of requiring video game levels of optimization. Last, they strip down the autonomous operation pathways to reduce both implementation and testing requirements.
With these and other improvements and simplifications, made possible with our BAT experience and 20 years of technological development, this project can deliver large satellite science on a CubeSat budget.
Besides Palmer, other collaborators on this project, all at Pennsylvania State University, include Abe Falcone (PI), Zachary Catlin (software), Tyler Anderson, Logan Baker, Michael Betts, Jacob Buffington, David Burrows, Joseph Colosimo, Tim Emeigh, Derek Fox, Hannah Grzybowski, Fredric Hancock, Evan Jennerjahn, Jordan Josties, Lukas Stone, Ian Thornton, Mitchell Wages, Daniel Washington, and Mike Zugger.
Top Image Caption:
The BlackCAT X-ray telescope, shown here (left) as a full-sized mock-up, is an astronomical telescope that will search for Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) after its launch in 2024. The complete satellite, including the telescope, unfolding solar panels, and other spacecraft components, fits in the volume of a 6U CubeSat spaceraft frame (right).