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How Wind River’s VxWorks Helped NASA’s InSight Land On Mars

Under ownership by Intel and as an independent company, Wind River has provided its real-time operating system for industrial IoT deployments to NASA for multiple unmanned missions, including the InSight and Curiosity.

When NASA's InSight Mars Lander survived the "seven minutes of terror" and made its triumphant landing on Mars Monday afternoon, some of its success was owed to the software running inside.

Like other unmanned systems made by NASA, the InSight uses technology created by Wind River Systems, an industrial Internet of Things software provider that was previously owned by Intel and now operates independently.

[Related: After Intel Spin-Out, Wind River Systems Makes Layoffs]

More specifically, InSight uses Wind River's VxWorks, a real-time operating system that provides deterministic performance for industrial IoT deployments. Determinism means that when a system is in the same initial state and receives the same sequence of inputs, the result will always be the same.

"Anything that has happened on the virtual platform can be precisely repeated, but there is no effect on how things will execute in the future," the company wrote in a 2010 blog post.

This is why the determinism of VxWorks was so crucial to the InSight landing Monday. As the lander was making its 12,300 mph descent, it "had to react with sub-millisecond precision making adjustments based on real-time readings," the company wrote in a blog post.

"In space, the margin for error is essentially zero," Wind River said.

This isn't the first time Wind River has played a role in a successful Mars landing. VxWorks is the operating system for NASA's Curiosity rover that touched down on the red planet in 2012. Other NASA vessels that have run on VxWorks include Deep Space I, Cygnus and Juno.

Wind River was owned by semiconductor giant Intel for nearly 10 years before the company sold it to private equity firm TPG Capital in June. Following the closing of the deal, Wind River CEO Jim Douglas said the industrial IoT software provider's growth had been "hamstrung" under Intel.

At the time, Douglas said he was looking at potential changes to how Wind Rivers works with channel partners as the company has mostly focused on direct sales.

"The thing we've been continuously looking at is, are there ways for us to be more intelligent to use partners to get more footprint?" he had said.

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