04 Oct 2012
SES launches satellite with new open source software language
Luxembourg-based satellite operator, SES, has launched a TV satellite into space that runs on a new satellite language called SPELL, or “Satellite Procedure Execution Language & Library”.
Every single one of the programs used to operate the Astrium-built satellite has been written in the new open source software standard, which will help to unify the many different programming languages, previously used to operate satellites and their subsystems, under one roof.
Pioneered by researchers at the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT), the language is based on an existing mathematical tool, that was refined so that procedures written in different native languages could be automatically translated into SPELL.
”Because of the complete and utter lack of common standards up until now, we used to have to make a big production out of operation and maintenance of the machines,” explains Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer at SES. ”Our operators were working with a number of different programming languages to help us control our SES fleet through space. If a single error was made, it could result in our satellite getting lost in space, incurring millions in losses.”
With this is mind, SPELL was devised to execute every imaginable navigational procedure from any given ground control system for all potential satellites in the fleet.
To fully automate the process, SnT worked with SES automation specialists on using a method known as triple graph transformation to automatically translate the programming languages employed by the new satellite’s subsystems into the common language SPELL.
As Dr Frank Hermann from SnT explains: “Triple graph transformation is a mathematical tool that has been the focus of active research since the 1990s. Along with other mathematical tools, it represents the ideal instrument for combining different programming languages under SPELL.”
According to Hermann, the new translation process does not require any source code programming, and SES validation teams have confirmed that the translation is highly precise.
As SnT Vice-Director, Professor Thomas Engel, adds: “The new satellite and SPELL will now have to prove themselves in space. If everything runs smoothly – which we are quite certain that it will – our basic science research will have made an important contribution to increasing SES’s performance and to making Luxembourg more competitive in this area.”
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