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Lunar lander project relies on SPARK programming language

June 10, 2010 // Julien Happich

Lunar lander project relies on SPARK programming language

Altran Praxis announced that its SPARK language has been selected by a new, NASA-funded US lunar mission. SPARK will be used to develop the software behind a CubeSat project being developed by a consortium comprising Vermont Technical College, Norwich University, St. Michael's College, and the University of Vermont.

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Primary funding for this effort is being provided by the Vermont Space Grant Consortium under NASA grant number NNG05GH16H.

A CubeSat is a miniaturised satellite with dimensions of 10x10x10cm which can be doubled or tripled in length. Its combination of size and standardised components make it a much cheaper method of space research than traditional satellites. Consequently it has been rapidly adopted by universities and research institutions around the world for projects covering areas as diverse as earthquake detection and wildlife tracking.

SPARK is a high level programming language and toolset designed to support the development of software where correct operation is vital, for example in safety, security or other must work applications. SPARK was adopted for the CubeSat project because of Vermont Technical College's experience in using SPARK and the related Ada programming language in developing mission critical control systems for a project to create Arctic sea ice monitoring buoys. Both the CubeSat and buoy systems face similar challenges in terms of coping with inhospitable conditions and the impossibility of fixing any software bugs when deployed.

The Vermont CubeSat project, led by Professor Carl Brandon of Vermont Technical College aims to launch by 2015. It is developing the first CubeSat that can be launched from a geostationary orbit to successfully land on the moon. The CubeSat electronics are based on a Texas Instruments (TI) MSP430 processor and the software will control navigation, communications, scientific instruments, camera and the CubeSat's propulsion system.

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