Whether it is China’s rover on Mars, its space station orbiting the Earth or its moon probe bringing back lunar samples, one little-known system is behind them all.
The core of the Kylin computer operating system has been guarded as a national secret and its use in the country’s space programme has only just been officially confirmed.
Its main codes were written by Chinese military researchers, according to developer China Electronics Corporation (CEC), but it also includes elements of Unix-like software FreeBSD, parts from Linux, and a user interface similar to Windows.
It is a hybrid, like the mythical qilin dragon beast it is named after.
Speaking to state media on the weekend, members of the Kylin development team revealed the role the operating system played in these missions, coordinating communication between artificial intelligence software, human controllers on the ground and all the hardware on board the spacecraft.
据开发商中国电子信息产业集团公司(CEC)称，其主要代码是由中国军方研究人员编写的，但其中也包括类 Unix 软件 FreeBSD 的元素、 部分来自Linux，以及类似 Windows 的用户界面。
Until about a decade ago, China, like most other countries, relied on Linux and Windows to drive its space programmes, according to a paper published in domestic journal Space Industry Management last year.
From 2008, China’s space authorities started to replace Western software and hardware in satellites and spacecraft. The process sped up after Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 about US hacking activities.
Dan Jianqun, a lead scientist with CEC’s Kylin project, said China had no other choice but to develop its operating system.
根据去年发表在国内期刊《太空工业管理》上的一篇论文，直到大约10年前，中国像其他大多数国家一样，依赖 Linux 和 Windows 来推动其太空计划。
“Using other people’s systems, is like building a house on other people’s land. It can be large and beautiful, but it can also be destroyed overnight,” he said in an interview on state television on Sunday.
The transition from western to home-made software was full of challenges, according to some of the software engineers involved.
Liu Jun, a software engineer on the Kylin team, said space missions required not only high security, but reliability and performance.
Liu said Kylin was initially developed for computers on the ground. To go to space, processing times on certain tasks had to be cut to less than a third, he told state television.
“It was as difficult as compressing a packet of biscuits into a few grams without losing any nutrition,” Liu said.
The space mission sometimes also required the operating system to execute a specific task without being distracted by lower priorities, and many codes were written to meet these needs, said Liu.
Kylin’s first tests were demanding. No one had landed on the far side of the moon. And no country had put a rover on Mars without failure.
Liu Hongyu, another Kylin engineer, said the team was under extreme stress when these missions reached a critical stage.
“We were just praying. When the spacecraft landed, the whole building rocked with applause,” he said.
Kylin is now the most widely used operating system in the Chinese government and military, according to previous state media reports.
When its first version was released in 2006, the system came under a lot of criticism for its poor user experience and its lack of compatible software.
But Kylin worked well with domestically developed computer chips such as the Loongson CPU.
As China began replacing Intel chips and Windows systems in the military, government, banks and other sensitive sectors, the Kylin user base grew rapidly.
Any foreign astronauts planning to take up China’s offer to visit its space station will need to learn some Chinese or they will be confused by the characters on the screen of every Kylin device, including the tablets.
This is quite a wonderful article. My respect for China keeps soaring high. China's determination to achieve something on their own should be studied in school.
I've been following global news all my life and how China went from being a country talked about only for Kung Fu and Ancient history, to become a country now on every global issue, all under 20-30 years, is second to none.
As a Nigerian, the Chinese are responsible for a lot of construction projects going on in my country and we spend far less on them than we would if we had paid Western nations for those infrastructural projects.
What China needs to do is to work on their Public Relations. They don't have good professional media with global influence so it's easy for America to always present China as an evil nation to the world.
China needs to master propaganda very well like America has.
Thanks to AliExpress, I have been buying nice products for 7 years online and at affordable prices and shipment costs too.
Good luck to you guys.
I can't learn Chinese though cause I don't have Chinese friends to be speaking it with.😂😂
@Franklin E. This is unfortunately true, China is not good at getting it's message across in the English-speaking world. CGTN is clumsy and wooden, even though it has great resources and content. RT does a much better job in terms of presentation to the Anglosphere.
@Wai L. RT uses Americans. That's the main difference
I'm pretty sure, soon the US will start warning other countries against using Kylin OS for 'security' reasons.
A. Champlin F.
Excellent. It is only a matter of time until Huawei's Harmony OS replaces Android.
Yes, there are things that one should safeguard
You could imagine what China does with its jet fighter Operating System. It is obviously much more reliable and secure.
this shows that china is confident enough in their own home grown OS to use it in such important mission.
The foreign ones are implanted with spy ware...
So, just like the US baulks at using Huawei's 5G, China baulked at using US operating systems a decade ago. The moral of the story being, when it comes to issues of national security, you can't put your trust in other people's technology.
@Wai L. it's probably a modified variant of open source linux...
@Lche059 You're guessing. If it needed to cope with time-sensitive space parameters, I would have started from scratch and optimised everything.
KEE SUAN T.
@Lche059 I believe that you know nothing about it.
@Wai L. I was guessing...but i turned out to be right...just google it...it's based on FreeBSD and compatible with linux/unix standard
我是猜的... 但结果证明我是对的... 谷歌一下就知道了... 它基于 FreeBSD 并兼容 Linux/Unix 标准
@Wai L. btw It's OS...nothing to do with space mission...it's basically hardware drivers...it's not that hard give that all unix/linux open source codes...space application is built on top that.
顺便说一下，这是操作系统... 与太空任务无关... 基本上是硬件驱动... 考虑到Unix/Linux的源码都是公开的，这并不难... 太空的应用程序是建立在这之上的。
@Lche059 Since it is Open source, what is the problem?
@Alenev 0. no problem with the copying as long as they comply with the licence terms...the problem is some people seem to not know that and think they developped it from scratch
India Virus-America Virus
Thanks goodness. China forsaw the danger of using US's products. US's santction and ban on selling tech to China and Chinese military don't affect China's military and space program at all. China's leaders are wise. Edward Snowden is global hero. Thanks Edward Snowden.
谢天谢地。中国预见到了使用美国产品的危险。美国制裁和禁止向中国和中国军方出售技术，而这根本影响不了中国的军事和太空计划。中国的领导层很明智。爱德华 · 斯诺登是全球英雄。感谢爱德华 · 斯诺登。
The world only cares about the deliveries. If it is a more capable system, others will ask to use it.
Make sense on critical tech, you own the tech for national development like the space program. The risk of hacking etc still there, but usually with homegrown you know or more aware own flaws and more difficult to be hacked into. Co-operation still needed, but vital system usually are proprietary and home grown
The Chinese must have felt vindicated when they found that the Iranian nuclear program was sabotaged by an American software worm.
Kylin uses the Linux kernel last I heard. China didn't develop the Linux kernel. Before that, used the FreeBSD kernel. (although I assume there are Chinese contributors, as they are open source projects).
It's no more a from-scratch Chinese operating system than Harmony OS -- which is just an Android fork.
Don;t know if it is true. But then who gives a fig? Is there code that is truly "from scratch" in any system? As the Supreme Court ruled many decades ago in Sears Compco, if there is no assertion of enforceable IP rights, it is BENEFICIAL for the world to emulate, as free competition DRIVES DOWN PRICES and benefit the consumers. CHINA PRICE is most beneficial to human kind. There is nothing in the scr1iptures that says if you are the first one to have an idea, somehow it is yours forever. Whatever ideas that exist in the world, unless there are still enforceable rights (patents, copyrights, whatever) AND the claimants are able to enforce such rights in the appropriate courts - otherwise all is fair game, and that is how human race progresses. On the shoulders of others prior.
@Christopher C. Whether it's originally developed in China or not is besides the point. What is more important is they improvished upon it, made it independent and use it without any fear of American software sabotage. May not be 100% perfect, but the advantages of having it outweigh all other considerations.
@Christopher C. Well better than building on some one's land I guess.
@Christopher C. So who actually started anything from scratch according to you?
India Virus-America Virus
According to your logic, then western nations steal all important printing technology, paper, compass, gun powder from China and yet turn around and bites the hand that feeds it. Not only that, western nations robbed China's resources and labour too. Remember, many tech developed by Chinese scientists and engineers living in US.
@Christopher C. China is smart. It did not want to re-invent the wheel. It is better to use a strong platform and repurpose it for your own security and fuctions. There is a Chinese saying - the forefathers planted the trees but it is the decendents that enjoy the shades and the fruits.
@Christopher C. You don't know anything about Kylin and here you are making blind comments.
@Christopher C. So then neither is Microsoft Windows or Google Android.
所以，微软的 Windows 和谷歌的安卓系统也不是从零开发。
Here we have yet ANOTHER example of how the completely unprincipled US ruling class wrecks its economy by backstabbing other countries. If the US conducted its affairs honorably, there would be no reason for China to develop domestic alternatives to Windows, Android, Google, and all the rest. These companies lose business, high tech industry in the US is weakened, and the people lose jobs. A LOT of people should be in jail.
@Galen L. China hasn't actually developed an alternative to Android. Harmony OS is an Android fork (and it hasn't diverged much at all). Which is fine, that's what the Android Open Source Project is for.
@Christopher C. So what is your point?
The US has never restricted China from using Microsoft Windows. In fact, Microsoft in 2017 set up an office in Beijing and allowed Chinese officials to review the source code in order to reassure them that there is no security backdoor. And Microsoft specifically created a version of Windows for the Chinese government agencies called the “Windows 10 CMIT”. This version has no bloatware, no tracking, not even telemetry infomation. So Microsoft bent over backwards to address the Chinese government's concerns. It's an absolute lie that the US government is somehow stopping the Chinese from using their operating systems.
美国从未限制中国使用微软的 Windows 操作系统。事实上，微软在2017年在北京设立了一个办事处，并允许中国官员审查源代码，以便向他们保证没有安全后门。微软专门为中国机构开发了一个 Windows 版本，称为“ Windows 10 CMIT”。这个版本没有臃肿软件，没有跟踪，甚至没有遥测信息。所以，微软竭尽全力解决中国机构的担忧。美国政府在某种程度上阻止中国人使用他们的操作系统，这绝对是个谎言。
@Jesse L. Then release Android OS to Huawei!
@Jesse L. I never said the US had restricted China's use of Windows. However,it is undeniably true that the US could sanction the use of Windows any time it wishes, creating an unacceptable risk for China.
我从未说过美国限制中国使用 Windows。不过，不可否认的是，美国可以随时限制 Windows 的使用，这给中国带来了不可接受的风险。
It is a prudent move by China. The US is able to hacked the computers and communications of all their allies because they used US softwares or devices from Microsoft, Google, Applie, Intel or AMD. The reason why Huawei 5G is a threat to the US is because if all countries adopt Huawei's 5G technologies then the US will have problem spying on them.
这是中国的一个谨慎之举。美国之所以能够入侵他们所有盟友的计算机和通信系统，是因为他们使用了来自微软、谷歌、苹果、英特尔或 AMD 的美国软件或设备。华为5G之所以对美国构成威胁，是因为如果所有国家都采用华为的5G技术，那么美国就很难监视它们。
@Jenny L. Spot on! Well said.
India Virus-America Virus
@Jenny L. Besides US's ability to spy on others when using US products, US can ban and sanction other countries to use its products too. China were smart to predict today's trade war which US bans selling tech to China and Chinese military.
OK, China has made great contribution to technolody in the past few decades, but "developing" Kylin OS is not one of them. It is just a fortified version of Linux.
@Just P. Every tech is built upon a previous tech. To think otherwise is naive. US rockets and space programs were based on stolen German tech. In turn, that tech was taken from China: ''Rockets for military and recreational uses date back to at least 13th-century China.'' - Wiki.
@Just P. Linux and Unix are open source. Even Microsoft and Google Android are based on them as well.
Linux 和 Unix 是开源的，甚至微软和谷歌的安卓也是基于它们。
@Just P. So is MacOS and many others. What's your point? FreeBSD and Linux have contributors from all around the world but they are just a base.
China is now world number one (1) in everything.
america is Number three Going number Four.
US is number one in Covid.
US also number 1 in racism and bombing other countries to oblivion and then saying they are doing good, making them also #1 in hypocrisy.
These rights are not a priori, but are merely man made to set up barriers against the developing nations. Why in the world the IP of rich nations should be respected outside of their own countries, is or should be up to debate. The more recent Nobel economist, Romer, sings the praises of the free use of knowledge by Man. Best for development for all, and not just the few with established interests.
Way to go China!
Regardless of the specifics of this technology, what the Chinese have done regarding their space missions is impressive. It's unfortunate the US and China cannot collaborate more due to the lack of trust since Space Exploration is an extremely risky and resource intensive mission.
@Bill S. Well said 🙏
China creates Economic and Technological Development zones with the purpose to build up high-tech industries, attracting foreign investment, increasing exports, improve the domestic economy and not depend or rely everything from the west. China today's is no longer the past China before.
@M Y. Totally agree 👍🏿👍🏿
@Post T. Learn the specifics and you can tell the differences between the BRI and the Marshal Plan. There is one similarity: Both will boost the international standing of the main force behind.
"Any foreign astronauts planning to take up China’s offer to visit its space station will need to learn some Chinese or they will be confused by the characters on the screen of every Kylin device, including the tablets." Well, learning a bit of Chinese will be a rewarding experience to say the least, plus you get to participate in China's future space missions. Furthermore, if you're competent enough to be an astronaut, learning Chinese should be simple enough.
@Post T. Nothing wrong with that. Itès the writing that's important.
@Panda X. Haha... imagine having to use Google translate in space
Maet moey L.
In 2007, a deal was reached by MIPS Technologies (American fabless semiconductor design company) and ICT (Chinese Academy of Science). STMicroelectronics (French/the West) bought a MIPS license for Loongson, and thus the processor can be promoted as MIPS-based.
As for Kylin, it's Linux based OS originally developed by Linus Torvalds.
@Maet moey L. Does Linus really want to be a proud of people of you kind? I really doubt so.
@Maet moey L. Why not learn from the west? China is very pragmatic. But if this particular type of Kylin is used for top secret projects like military or space, then likely Chinese engineers have modified them a great deal especially the core parts. Don't you think Chinese engineers can do that? Huawei is the top Linux kernel contributors, btw. There'll be no shortage of Chinese engineers who can come up with the whole OS stack from scratch if they must.
Nothing to see here, this is a just a Linux OS, invented in the west through open source initiative and the Chinese contribution has been historically lacking, take everything and contribute a little, China probably developed components and customized it but at the end this is 90% western technology.
@Julio D. If it makes you feel good. Still playing the role of the hare? Anyway, US space program is German in birth. Remember WW2 where the victors enjoyed the spoils of the victory?
@Julio D. If you check the pr in Linux repo, you would see that the contribution from Chinese companies to the core code is no less than any other ones. But anyway, how you think doesn't matter at all.
如果你检查 Linux repo的pr，你会发现中国公司对核心代码的贡献不亚于其他任何公司。但不管怎样，你怎么认为的，一点也不重要。
@Julio D. Wow, you have seen the code!!!! Amazing.
哇，你已经看到代码了! ! ! ! 太神奇了。
@Julio D. If it's 90% western technology, why don't guys like just hack the system for the fun of it?
@Julio D. Chinese contributions lacking? Really? Huawei? And also many more who are not associated with their companies
Eventually, China should aim to to make available for free download to users in the rest of the world, operating systems for PCs, laptops, tablets and even phones to replace Windows and Android. Current Linux-based free software, like Linux Mint, are useful but lack continuing development.
最终，中国应该致力于向世界其他地区的用户提供免费下载的个人电脑、笔记本电脑、平板电脑甚至手机的操作系统，以取代 Windows 和安卓。目前基于 Linux 的免费软件，比如 Linuxmint，很有用，但是缺乏持续的开发。
Very interesting. More stories about China's software development would be welcome.
The rest of the world will rapidly learn that one cannot trust American software, as Edward Snowden had exposed. Americans are realising that they are prone to ransom hacking, much of it blamed on Russia, while those domestic hackers have free reign to collect their loot.
正如爱德华 · 斯诺登揭露的那样，世界其他国家很快就会明白，人们不能相信美国的软件。美国人开始意识到，他们很容易遭到黑客勒索，其中很大一部分被归咎于俄罗斯，而那些国内的黑客则自由地收集他们的战利品。
@David S. I must have missed it. Didn't hear much about the spying among friends in the G7 meeting recently.
@Howcan 2. US must have quickly muzzled the news about US spying on her allies using Denmark cables. Credit goes to US media power.
@Howcan 2. It's hardly news that the US spies on the world, as exposed by Snowden in 2012. The US agreed not to spy on allies after that. The recent revelation that Denmark hosts a major US spy infrastructure to spy on allies still shouldn't be any surprise. The US can't be trusted.
That also explain why China space program did not fail. American hackers and their proxies would have destroyed all its projects.
@David S. Yes fail missile launches using US made GPS pushed China to develop it's own satellite navigation.