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The Software of Space Exploration 45

David Boswell writes "The O'Reilly Network is running an article called The Software of Space Exploration that looks at a number of the software projects that NASA has released as open source under their NOSA license. It explores how they are using other free and open source projects for use in some of their missions. Information about the European Space Agency and other space organizations is also covered." From the article: "A number of tools allow you to track objects in space, from asteroids to shuttle missions. A consortium of scientists working in the field of celestial mechanics has released OrbFit as free software under the GPL. This software can compute the orbits of asteroids and predict an asteroid's future position. You can also track artificial satellites with several free-as-in-beer and free-as-in-freedom options. Amateur radio enthusiasts use Linux and these tools to hear transmissions from the space station or from other satellites in Earth orbit."
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The Software of Space Exploration

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  • by RunFatBoy.net ( 960072 ) * on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:18PM (#15079983)
    On a less practical note, it'd be quite interesting if John Carmack would release the flight control software he has developed for Armadillo's prototypes.

    While its highly proprietary code, it would give a sense as to what needs to be tracked during the duration of rocket flight and might interest others in aerospace engineering.

    John has been very generous with his code throughout the years and I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this happen (unless he has outside investors that would object).

    Jim http://www.runfatboy.net/ [runfatboy.net] -- Exercise for the rest of us.
    • John has been very generous with his code throughout the years and I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this happen (unless he has outside investors that would object)

      Or the government. I'm certain the software is classified as a munition under ITAR [wikipedia.org](International Trade in Arms Regulation). He'd require an export license to make it available. I'm not entirely sure he could even get one, the powers that be have become extremely picky about what they allow.
    • >On a less practical note, it'd be quite interesting
      > if John Carmack would release the flight control
      >software he has developed for Armadillo's prototypes.
      >
      >While its highly proprietary code, it would give a
      >sense as to what needs to be tracked during the duration
      >of rocket flight and might interest others in
      >aerospace engineering.

      I think in general we already know how to build flight controls for boosters. I'd be kind of interested, anyway. I've seen some pre
    • Did he write it himself or inhouse or was it purchased or was it outsourced?
    • On a less practical note, it'd be quite interesting if John Carmack would release the flight control software he has developed for Armadillo's prototypes. While its highly proprietary code, it would give a sense as to what needs to be tracked during the duration of rocket flight and might interest others in aerospace engineering.

      What needs to be tracked (and controlled) is already widely known - that's not the hard part. The hard part (and what ends up proprietary) is the actually doing of it. Since th

  • Way to go (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bob3141592 ( 225638 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:23PM (#15080019) Homepage
    NASA should be commended for embracing open source software in some of their applications. Much of what they do would benefit greatly from the efforts of a community which is most supportive of their goals. I used to work as a contractor at NASA doing data reduction algorithms on Landsat, and that would be an ideal app for open source efforts. The data is public, so why not the software related to it as well?

    Granted, there are some things that require the kind of expertise and customization that open source wouldn't be appropriate for, and I'm sure some of NASA's efforts are classified. But wherever it's reasonable, open source is a supurb idea. Imagine how many CS geeks would love to contribute to NASA just for the fun of it!
  • by ollj ( 966671 )
    "Hack the planet!" "Which one?"
  • by Lord Satri ( 609291 ) <alexandrelerouxNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:39PM (#15080160) Homepage Journal
    The article discusses NASA WorldWind but several interesting links are missing. Amongst them: Punt [sourceforge.net], a WW fork. Heck, you can also see Microsoft Virtual Earth data in NASA WorldWind itself [worldwindcentral.com]. Even Mars 3D in WW [alteviltech.com]. (I stop here, if this interests you, read slashgeo.org [slashgeo.org] ;-))

    I don't know if Stellarium [stellarium.org] counts as "software for space exploration", but it's worthed. Celestia [shatters.net] too.
  • Fascinating! I am always glad to see powerful tools become more readily available. I know the Satellite Tool Kit by ASI provides many powerful orbit analysis tools, but it's not open source (although they do give out free CDs of the basic software, and charge customers for additional features and higher precision functions). Otherwise, a person is often left with trying to translate a LAPACK routine from FORTRAN into something more C-like.
  • NASA software (Score:5, Informative)

    by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:49PM (#15080236) Homepage Journal
    Your tax dollars paid for it. Download it here.

    http://www.nasatech.com/software/ [nasatech.com]

    There's some seriously interesting software in there.
  • by NoMoreBits ( 920983 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @05:55PM (#15080288)
    You mean free as in cheese [google.com]
  • by sabre86 ( 730704 )
    Its good to see something along the lines of COSMIC is still around. But isn't software developed by NASA necessarily public domain?

    --sabre86
    • Yes, it is public domain. And as such NASA has exactly the opposite problem from most organizations when trying to contribute back to open source.
      NASA's licensing [bna.com]
    • No, some NASA software is not released into the public domain. They have several software packages that they sell. I forget what the really snazzy one was; I didn't bookmark it when my attention was called to it, because it wasn't free :D
    • It depends if it is written by a civil service employee or a contractor. Most NASA software is written by contractors. The contractor has the copyright, which depending on language of the contract, can be assigned to the federal government.
      • Having written software as a contractor for NASA for over ten years, I can say that the opposite is true. By default, NASA keeps ownership of all software and patents resulting from contracted activity. Occasionally, though, a contract can have specific wording to allow the contractor to retain some parts of a project. This is especially true if the software is not the product of the project itself, but something peripheral to it.

        As an aside, it is my opinion that NASA's embrace of Open Source is somew

        • Opposite of what?

          The contractor initially has the copyright, since he is the creator of the work. The work, and its associated copyright, are then delivered to the government. That's for software written to the specifications of the government, when the government pays for the labor. If the contractor wants to keep the copyright, he can pay for the software development out of his own pocket. I've seen that done when the contractor thinks that the software may be a viable commercial product. It has to be d

    • ITAR Restrictions (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Manhigh ( 148034 )
      There are many tools that NASA has developed that fall under International Trafficing-in-Arms (ITAR) restrictions, which essentially means theyre restricted to being deployed to US nationals only. Generally, software that is useful for putting spacecraft on target can also be useful for putting missiles on target.

      Theres also the issue of civil service vs. contractor development, as was already mentioned. JPL has developed a lot of fine software, but since they are a semi-private organization that needs pr
  • "Free as in beer" or "free as in freedom" trolling? Geesh. How about "proprietary as in SLAVERY AND DEATH!!1!"

    Hey "editors", its ok to whittle down the submissions to the "News" part, and leave the sensationalism elsewhere.
  • NASA and Eclipse (Score:4, Interesting)

    by aniefer ( 910494 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:10PM (#15080398) Journal
    NASA is also doing work using Eclipse as a rich client platform. They had a talk at EclipseCon [eclipsecon.org] about using Eclipse for the Mars rovers.
  • If the folks at NASA were smart, they would set up some incentives for those who make useful contributions or error corrections to their open source software. They could list contributors names in some official gov't document, engrave their names and shoot it out into space, whatever. But I'm sure it would be easy to think up some *very* attractive incentives for young hackers to contribute to their products. And how cool would it be to not only have helped NASA out, but also be able to say that your nam
    • My name, and the names of my two sons are on a spacecraft as we speak, that is hurtling toward the outer reaches of our solar system. I wouldn't say we contributed much, but they do like to track the progress of said craft. Thecraft won't reach it's inteded target for some time now, but I hope my children can see it when they are parents themselves.
  • by Dusty ( 10872 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @06:44PM (#15080640) Homepage
    If I remember correctly the European Space Agency's mission control system (processes the spacecraft telemetry, on the ground) is open source. Currently they are using SCOS-2000. But the best a quick search came up with was via this article on XMM [esa.int].
    • > If I remember correctly the European Space Agency's mission control system (processes the spacecraft telemetry, on the ground) is open source. Currently they are using SCOS-2000.

      This is correct: all new ESA missions use SCOS-2000 [esa.int] to process and display telemetry and to prepare and monitor telecommanding. It currently runs on Solaris/SPARC or SUSE Linux/x86.

      Current mission using SCOS-2000 include Mars Express, Venus Express, Rosetta and Smart-1 and coming missions, Herschel/Planck and GOCE will use it.

      (
  • I thought the software of space exploration was "Astroids"
  • "La Casa Nostra"... dunno why, other than some synaptic molecule flipping bits...
  • OpenSourceAstronomy (Score:3, Informative)

    by opensourceIT ( 539684 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @07:09PM (#15080792)
    Masses of space/astronomy open source packages, see
    www.openastro.com [openastro.com]
  • NASTRAN development (Score:3, Informative)

    by tddoog ( 900095 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @07:18PM (#15080841)
    NASA developed NASTRAN, one of the most popular and powerful Finite Element Analysis programs, a long time ago and released it to the public. http://www.openchannelfoundation.org/projects/NAST RAN/ [openchanne...dation.org]
  • by glass_window ( 207262 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @07:43PM (#15080993)
    That means the terrorists will get ahold of it, track some meteors, and alter their course so they crash into a landmass of their choice! Open source is bad!

    </scarasm>
  • by nicholasjay ( 921044 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @09:43PM (#15081620)
    Disclaimer: I work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and I am speaking only for myself.

    I'm working on some opensource software released under the NOSA license.

    The general opensource website for GSFC is http://opensource.gsfc.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

    The software that I am specifically working on is called the OS Abstraction Layer (OSAL). If you code to its API, it will allow you to run code on a VxWorks, RTEMS, Linux, or Mac OS X system. It was designed for embedded flight software use. There will be a new version out in a few months that will employ memory protection. Believe it or not, but memory protection for flight systems has been very hard to do in the past.
  • EdGCM [columbia.edu] is a NASA climate model that has been ported to run on Mac and PC with a GUI interface. Download it and it comes with default climate simulations (modern, global warming, paleo, etc.). Or you can design your own climates!
  • I was fortunate to work with some of the guys who developed CLIPS [ghg.net], a very nice forward-chaining rule engine that can be applied to a surprisingly wide variety of projects. Several variants of it have appeared in the intervening years. There is an actively-developed and fine successor to it, Jess [sandia.gov].

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