Gentoo Linux Headed for Space!
This article was written by Gentoo developer Joe Peterson, who works for the Southwest Research Institute. Joe already uses Gentoo Linux for projects such as the New Horizons space operations center. Now, he'll take Gentoo where no penguin has gone before . . .
Gentoo is getting ready to fly into space aboard a rocket called the Rapid Acquisition Imaging Spectrograph Experiment (RAISE). The rocket is part of NASA's "sounding rocket program", and it is a relatively inexpensive way to gather information about the Sun from light that cannot penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. Southwest Research Institute, where RAISE is being designed, has a very active solar research group that is on the cutting edge of new discoveries about our closest star.
One of the main mysteries that RAISE will help to solve involves the temperature of the solar corona. This outer atmosphere of the Sun is more than one million degrees centigrade, whereas the Sun's surface is a mere 6000 degrees. Because the data to be collected by RAISE will give insight into the mechanisms of energy conversion in the solar atmosphere, we hope to use this data to better understand this strange temperature inversion.
RAISE will fly to an altitude of 350 km—well into space—and then return to Earth via parachute. The total flight time will be about 14 minutes, giving the rocket 6 minutes of "hang time" in space to collect data. Two ultraviolet detectors will collect stereo images and 3D spectral/spacial "cubes" of data. In the latter case, a mirror and slit will be used to scan across the Sun and collect a UV spectrum at each pixel.
Gentoo Linux will be used on four processor boards in the flight electronics. One will be the central controller, and the other three will be dedicated to capturing data from the instruments. Spectral "image" data will be collected at 10Hz and stored on a solid-state PATA drive, which will be retrieved from the rocket after landing. A minimal Gentoo installation will be included on each board for flight. On the capture boards, we will add USB drivers for instrument I/O. In fact, we have our first capture board up and running already, and data is successfully coming in from our test camera in the lab.
So stay tuned for further news about RAISE, and when it launches, remember that all of the Gentoo Project's hard work went into making this rocket's operating system flight-ready!