Linux for the International Space Station Program

An overview of two applications for spacecraft and why these applications are being run on Linux.

The success of Linux is grounded in the fact that the work created by one group of people is not owned by any other group of people. Reliability, performance, portability and affordability are the four characteristics which convinced ESA to use it for real-time spacecraft control software. Important work still needs to be done; hopefully, the coming kernels will be POSIX compliant, plug-and-play will be truly available and multimedia capabilities will be extended beyond user expectations. I am almost certain that Linux will run onboard the International Space Station or in any of the ISS components' ground control centers around the globe. Linux has earned its excellent reputation and can successfully compete with all other available operating systems.

Guillermo Ortega works in the guidance and navigation area of the European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands. He has been working with Linux in space projects since 1994. He can be reached via e-mail at



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Are you serious?

Anonymous's picture

Linux was chosen for reliability, performance, portability and cost, the author states. Application's reliability is far more important than OS reliability in this case, even a perfect OS does not protect an application for failing in its own merit. Performance, define performance, all applications have a SLA, does the author mean to imply the only OS capable of supporting these applications SLA is Linux? On what hardware? He mentions Pentium Pro, was that a requirement?

Portability I fail again to see how is this important since this is a custom application for a highly customized piece of equipment and you can basically do not get any benefit by moving the application to some other platform. Au contraire, it adds to costs, which the author seems to imply was one of the criteria Linux was chosen after all, and introduces risk.

As for about the cost, the argument is laughable. We are talking of a project that has tens of millions of euros (dollars) budget, at least, saying that they saved a the cost of a few licenses for a commercial OS is like saying hey I had just water after those 4 megaburgers 'cause I am cutting on calories...