VML (Virtual Machine Language) is an advanced computing environment that allows spacecraft to operate using mechanisms ranging from simple, timeoriented sequencing to advanced, multicomponent reactive systems.
VML has developed in four evolutionary stages. VML 0 is a core execution capability providing multi-threaded command execution, integer data types, and rudimentary branching. VML 1 added named parameterized procedures, extensive polymorphism, data typing, branching, looping issuance of commands using run-time parameters, and named global variables. VML 2 added for loops, data verification, telemetry reaction, and an open flight adaptation architecture. VML 2.1 contains major advances in control flow capabilities for executable state machines.
On the resource requirements front, VML 2.1 features a reduced memory footprint in order to fit more capability into modestly sized flight processors, and endian-neutral data access for compatibility with Intel little-endian processors. Sequence packaging has been improved with object-oriented programming constructs and the use of implicit (rather than explicit) time tags on statements. Sequence event detection has been significantly enhanced with multi-variable waiting, which allows a sequence to detect and react to conditions defined by complex expressions with multiple global variables. This multi-variable waiting serves as the basis for implementing parallel rule checking, which in turn, makes possible executable state machines.
The new state machine feature in VML 2.1 allows the creation of sophisticated autonomous reactive systems without the need to develop expensive flight software. Users specify named states and transitions, along with the truth conditions required, before taking transitions. Transitions with the same signal name allow separate state machines to coordinate actions: the conditions distributed across all state machines necessary to arm a particular signal are evaluated, and once found true, that signal is raised. The selected signal then causes all identically named transitions in all present state machines to be taken simultaneously.
VML 2.1 has relevance to all potential space missions, both manned and unmanned. It was under consideration for use on Orion.
This work was done by Joseph E. Riedel of Caltech and Christopher A. Grasso of Blue Sun Enterprises for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.