Node.js on a satellite means anyone can be a space programmer

May 10, 2016

Read time 3 min

Why is running Node.js on a satellite a small step for Reaktor but a giant leap for the satellite industry? The key is the ability to use JavaScript, one of the most popular programming languages in the world. Read on about how our little “Hello World” cubesat is about to make a big splash in the space industry.

What would happen if everyone with a normal driver’s license could fly an airplane just as safely and smoothly as a professional pilot? Somehow all the complicated levers, buttons and gauges inside the cockpit would be replaced with a familiar steering wheel, and a couple of pedals and levers. Suddenly, there would be a couple of billion eager new pilots available to fly planes, instead of the 130,000 commercial pilots there are now.

This is what we are planning to do with the satellite business: to make it as easy as building a web site. You have probably heard of JavaScript, a programming language used to build this very web page and billions of other things in the internet. It is the most popular programming language, which is even taught to kids through sites like Code Monster. Now we are taking JavaScript from your browser window and making it a programming language that you can use in space.

Industry-grade programming has traditionally been very complicated and expensive, requiring unique programming languages and skills. Buying an industrial robot is not difficult, but programming it to do something useful without it breaking things can take weeks or months – starting from finding a developer with the right programming skills.

This is where the Reaktor Hello World satellite is changing everything. If your industrial machinery, robots or satellites could understand popular languages, such as JavaScript, you would have no trouble finding programmers. You would not need to understand the low-level implementation of a robot or satellite for it to be productive.

If a satellite was running Node.js, programmers and developers could use all the familiar tools they have utilized before. There would be no need for a special rocket scientist toolkit. This combination is quite literally a programmer’s universal driver’s license. It lets you program cell phone towers or airplane entertainment systems – projects where we have used JavaScript successfully before.

With JavaScript, developers can also update the software in the satellite, allowing them to extend the functionality after the launch. The code is also reusable: once you get things running with a higher-level language, you do not have to redo all the low-level programming details every time you have a new satellite in production.

Since JavaScript is a familiar language, it is easy to create apps for satellites. The apps are small, so they can be updated in-flight. Our Node.js environment lets JavaScript apps utilize the satellite’s features and sensors, enabling the apps to feed space data to business logic systems on the ground and making the satellite part of the Internet of Things in space.

Yes, you read it right. The Internet of Things is not just about helping your fridge to be friends with your microwave oven. It is also about enabling communications between satellites and other flying objects or connected devices on earth.

All this functionality in the Reaktor Space Program will be built in the cloud, which means that the Mission Control Center can be located anywhere in the world. You can check the status of your satellite with the browser in your smartphone – and you don’t even need an app for that.

So, the next time you are building a web page, you will also be honing your space-programmer skills.

Read more about Reaktor Space. The Reaktor Hello World is scheduled to be launched by the end of 2016. 

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