Source Code

Cosmonaut is a mixed work and personal project I’ve been working in my spare time since late 2017. It is a Rust reimplementation of the Cosmos framework for embedded device networking that we use at work to manage some of our spacecraft.


My company manufactures, programs, and operates CubeSats. The onboard software we produce for the satellites is lightweight and typically bespoke for each project. Part of the software design process includes defining the set of messages that will be exchanged by the vehicle and the ground station, with as little overhead in the binary form as possible.

In order to reduce resource use in the software for de/serialization, and reduce the packet size in radio transport, the messages are often just direct transmissions of the in-memory data structure. As our flight software is written in C and C++, the memory layout is well-known and can be sent to the radio with full confidence of what the transmitted message is, and how it will be interpreted on the ground. We can have equal confidence for messages we send to the vehicle and the vehicle’s ability to deserialize by simple pointer cast.

Prior Art

I wrote about some of the aspects of this communication protocol in my articles about use of and ideas for type casting. Since then, I’ve mulled over how to start working on a Rust library to work in this area.

First Steps

Over winter break, I decided I’d finally get around to really learning and using the nom parser library to build a parser for the COSMOS command and telemetry definition languages. I built up parsers for the most common 80% of the language, and am stuck on the remaining, uncommon, elements.

Once I got to a point where my library could successfully parse example files and real files from my work, I started refactoring the library to make it more suitable for use as a general library and practice my Rust skills.

Library Structure

I initially had a lot of code duplication, because of the similarities between COMMAND and TELEMETRY grammars (and their child types, PARAMETER and ITEM, and the SELECT_-prefixed variants of all four), and as the parser progressed I was able to start seeing ways to reduce duplication by refactoring the large objects and functions into smaller types shared between them, or into traits.

Now that I am 80% done with the parser (only the last 80% to go! The grammars that remain require more design thought, integration of a Ruby ERb processor, or something else entirely), I have begun working on using the parsed structures to perform de/serialization of data values and binary sequences. This part is challenging, as it requires a lot of thought about client-facing design and mucking about with really low-level bit hacking code.

My biggest advance, from an author’s perspective, was realizing that Rust is incredibly permissive about impl blocks and module layout. My modules for the four main parsed structures were getting massive, so I split them each into a root module with several child modules, which could implement traits and inherent methods as I so chose and the root module would hold only the type itself.