With the possible exception of, for instance, a fleet of GEO communications satellites, most spacecraft are going to have very unique requirements. I would imagine it's difficult to use the same software on different missions, if it's possible at all.

To what extent is flight software unique to the mission? Are large swaths of code shared within institutions? What about between different institutions? Has any mission just thrown their code onto SourceForge?

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    $\begingroup$ Remember, the first Ariane V flight went boom because it was flying software originally written for the Ariane IV and not sufficiently modified for the changes in the hardware. $\endgroup$ Oct 13, 2013 at 3:58

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I only know of a few examples, but yes, there are examples of large swaths of code being shared between spacecraft and sometimes between institutions. Mars Pathfinder is at the root of one such family tree, with much of that code inherited for Mars Exploration Rover and Mars Science Laboratory, and another offshoot of the Mars Pathfinder code taking root and evolving in Lockheed-Martin spacecraft from Mars Polar Lander to Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

I have seen cubesat open-source software, but I am not aware of any large spacecraft software being made open source. United States companies and institutions would not be allowed to put flight software on any sort of open repository due to ITAR regulations.

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    $\begingroup$ It might be appropriate to expand ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations). Based on security.stackexchange.com/questions/6424/… , there also appears to be some degree of security through obscurity intended (not just keeping technology and technological capabilities secret). $\endgroup$
    – user56
    Oct 12, 2013 at 15:38

Much of flight software is done according to a "clone & own" principle - that is, code from a previous and similar missions are adopted and extended for the new spacecraft.

The entire source code for spacecrafts are not freely available, though NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center have made their Core Flight Executive available, a base platform for flight software used in a few recent missions.

Here's an overview of cFE, and if you're interested in the software and heritage on the Curiosity rover, see this presentation, and the Flight Software Workshop have many other insights into the world of flight software.


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