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Wind River Customers

NASA JPL Curiosity

VxWorks managed the execution of all of Curiosity’s functions—from managing avionics to collecting science data and sending the experimental results back to JPL on Earth using satellite telemetry.

VxWorks Powers Mars Science Laboratory Rover, Curiosity

On August 6, 2012, NASA made an enormous advancement in space exploration when it landed the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity in the Gale Crater on Mars. Curiosity is the most technologically advanced autonomous robotic spacecraft and geologist set ever to be deployed by any space venture. It’s on a groundbreaking mission to determine whether Mars is or has ever been capable of supporting life, and to assess its habitability for future human missions.

The VxWorks® real-time operating system (RTOS) plays a central role in this historic mission. VxWorks provides the core operating system of the spacecraft control system—from the second the rocket left Earth on November 26, 2011, until the end of the mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system, has used VxWorks as its mission-critical OS brain for more than two decades. The total cost of the Curiosity project is approximately $2.5B and represents eight years of passion and work, so the stakes are high, and a fail-proof, resilient RTOS was a core requirement.

“Seven Minutes of Terror”

Curiosity relied on VxWorks for the complex landing sequence called EDL (entry, descent, and landing), which is being described as “seven minutes of terror” due to the absolute precision required for the spacecraft to survive the landing. While on Mars, Curiosity is depending on VxWorks to perform mission-critical tasks, such as ground operations control, data collection, and Mars-to-Earth communication relay. Curiosity will investigate whether Mars has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, and assess Mars’ habitability for future human exploration.

Wind River® has an extensive heritage of achievements in space working with NASA JPL, dating back to 1994, when VxWorks launched into space on the Clementine Moon probe. This was followed by the Mars Pathfinder mission, which made VxWorks the first commercial operating system to go to Mars. Wind River technology also operates within the Mars Exploration Rovers and Stardust spacecraft, among others.