Software Glitch Pauses LightSail Test Mission
J Thoendell stashed this in Space
But inside the spacecraft's Linux-based flight software, a problem was brewing. Every 15 seconds, LightSail transmits a telemetry beacon packet. The software controlling the main system board writes corresponding information to a file called beacon.csv. If you’re not familiar with CSV files, you can think of them as simplified spreadsheets—in fact, most can be opened with Microsoft Excel.
As more beacons are transmitted, the file grows in size. When it reaches 32 megabytes—roughly the size of ten compressed music files—it can crash the flight system. The manufacturer of the avionics board corrected this glitch in later software revisions. But alas, LightSail’s software version doesn’t include the update.
Late Friday, the team received a heads-up warning them of the vulnerability. A fix was quickly devised to prevent the spacecraft from crashing, and it was scheduled to be uploaded during the next ground station pass. But before that happened, LightSail fell silent.
It's hard to get comfortable with software eating the world when we've seen firsthand how much software can fail.