Haskell in the Misson Control Domain

  • Michael Oswald
September 06, 2014 3:10 - 3:35 PM


Having been shaped by maintaining highly complex systems over vast periods of time Space Industry is conservative by its very nature. This does not seem to make it a likely candidate of adopting Functional Programming. On the other hand omnipresent budget cuts and pressure towards achieving higher levels of time efficiency in implementing new systems have the potential of prompting novel approaches to existing challenges. This presentation reports on hands-on experience in successfully applying functional languages in the Space Domain.

Space software systems show a tendency towards being overly complex, incorporating code of a long ancestry line, which also leads to maintenance issues and high irreducible error rates in the code base. SCOS, the European Space Agency’s workhorse system for doing mission control, is no exception to that. Furthermore SCOS is by itself an example demonstrating that new, safe idioms as promoted by the C++ community, are widely ignored or had been unknown to the majority of developers during its creation. In order to mitigate this, ESA decided to take the Java approach, which has the potential to overcome at least some shortcomings of C++. Nevertheless, first results don’t seem to be very promising with respect to extensibility and maintainability as well as the residual bug count.

Taking a different approach, Siemens CVC Austria and DLR (Deutsche Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt) embrace functional languages within the Space Domain. For this purpose a prototype, yet fully functional software system implementing a closed-loop testing tool for DLR’s mission control system GECCOS (originally branched from SCOS) was developed in Haskell, in order to evaluate the code development, maintainability, and the residual error numbers. This proved to be a success in terms of productivity, bug count, extensibility and also user acknowledgement, such that additionally an additional tool (a protocol bridge) was developed in Haskell. This presentation details on the findings gained in these investigations and compares it with traditional implementations in C++.