Learning From Near-impossible Missions
Artist's impression of Huygens' descent
Projects for space researchers and astronomers taught LogicaCMG a lot about building mission-critical systems. Customers across the world have benefited from this experience.
"Your mission is almost impossible. If you choose to accept it, you'll have to land a small probe on the surface of Titan, Saturn's giant moon".
"We don't know what it's like there - no one has been before. Your mission is to gather data and get it back to Earth. There's only one chance to get it right".
"Oh, and there's one more thing. The spacecraft that will carry the probe to Saturn will take seven years to get to the launch point. The software to control the probe and its instruments must be tested before it leaves".
LogicaCMG is used to briefs like this. The British company has been writing software for tough space missions ever since the European Space Agency was created.
In 1992 LogicaCMG was selected to develop software to control the Huygens probe's descent onto Titan. It also had to operate the scientific instruments and report their findings to mission control.
The probe would be launched on board the Cassini spacecraft in 1997. The descent would happen seven years later after a journey of 1.2 billion kilometres.
Because of the distance involved, there could be no direct human involvement. However, the software onboard Huygens could be updated remotely during the journey to Saturn.
Once the probe left Cassini in December 2004, everything had to work perfectly. It did. Huygens landed on Titan on January 14th 2005.
Artist's impression of Huygens' descent.
About the European Space Agency.
Created in 1973, the European Space Agency develops satellite-based technologies and services. Its scientific missions gather information about the Earth, the solar system and the wider universe.
It is funded by 17 member states, including the UK. PPARC is responsible for the UKs contribution to ESA projects that are of interest to space researchers and astronomers.
LogicaCMG has learnt a lot through projects like Huygens.
On each project, its people must work at the limit of what's possible. But there's no room for error. The software they develop must perform flawlessly throughout the mission.
To achieve this, LogicaCMG uses a project management method called Cortex.
To give each new project the best chance of success, Cortex is based on LogicaCMG's past experience and industry best practice. When projects like Huygens complete, their expertise is added to Cortex to make it even more effective.
Projects for space researchers and astronomers aren't the only ones to benefit. LogicaCMG's expertise helps all sorts of other customers, in space and on the ground.
The company is working on software for Galileo, the world's first commercial satellite positioning service. Unlike its military predecessors, the American GPS and the Russian GLONASS, Galileo won't be interrupted at the whim of the armed forces.
Mission-critical systems have become a speciality. The company developed a system that reliably transfers US$5 trillion between the world's banks every day. Other systems control gas distribution and trading between electricity companies.
Software developed by the company also handles two thirds of the world's SMS text messages.
Projects like these have helped LogicaCMG become one of the most successful companies of its kind.
Text message arrives at mobile phone.
LogicaCMG plc traces its history back to the 1960s when two companies, Logica and CMG, were formed. The companies became independently successful before merging in 2002.
In 2005 the company achieved profits of more than £120 million from revenues totalling £1.83 billion.
In 2006 it acquired French IT services company Unilog in a deal worth £630 million. It now employs 30,000 people in 36 countries.
On July 1st 2004, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrived at Saturn after a seven-year 1.2 billion kilometre journey from Earth. Six months later, the Huygens Probe, guided by LogicaCMG software, landed on Titan.
This illustrates exactly what LogicaCMG is about - mission-critical performance, intellectual rigour and innovation, technical excellence, faultless execution, dependability, reliability and long-term partnership.
Posted by: Edwin Source