NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist has released the second edition of its popular NASA Software Catalog, a downloadable collection of software programs providing cutting-edge solutions for a wide array of industrial, academic, government and public applications.
The 172-page catalog, which includes more than 1,000 codes organized into 15 categories, is an updated and expanded version of the first edition, published in April 2014. It enables NASA projects, government agencies and other users to save money and time, using ready-made coding tools rather than buying or building their own.
“This product is the first and only offering of its kind in the federal government,” said Daniel Lockney, program executive for NASA’s Technology Transfer Program, which compiled and published the catalog for the agency. “It is setting the standard for how federal software assets should be shared broadly with the public.”
This year’s catalog has several new features, including a guide to NASA’s most-requested software tools and a write-up on which tools the agency is using to build its next heavy lift vehicle, the Space Launch System. Technologies found in the catalog — and in the fully automated, regularly updated and searchable online version — range from project management systems, data handling and design tools to sophisticated solutions for aeronautics, life support functions, structural analysis and autonomous and robotic systems.
Some access restrictions apply. Certain codes are limited to government users, while many others are available to any U.S. citizen. Each entry is clearly marked to identify availability. Contact information also is provided for NASA Software Release Authority representatives at relevant NASA centers, who can answer questions and assist with software tools requests.
The NASA Software Catalog originally stemmed from a challenge from the White House. In the October 2011 memorandum “Accelerating Technology Transfer and Commercialization of Federal Research in Support of High-Growth Businesses,” President Barack Obama called on all federal agencies to find new ways to increase the efficiency and output of their technology transfer activities.
In response, NASA developed a five-year plan with several high-level objectives, one of which was to locate, collect and make accessible all agency software. The software catalog was the result.
The catalog makes the best of NASA’s software available to industry, and it saves government projects the costs associated with writing their own codes. When in the hands of NASA engineers and scientists, these tools maintain regular operation of the myriad complex instruments on the International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope and Mars rovers; enable efficient and safe launch operations; and help design new generations of space vehicles. In the hands of industry, they can help create jobs, generate revenue and even save lives.
As the emerging commercial space industry takes flight, NASA software is providing strategic new benefits to both fledgling companies and longtime NASA partners. NASA provides safety protocols and checkout tools, guidance and navigation codes and even the advanced design tools needed for building state-of-the-art spacecraft. Its software has been used by hundreds of non-aerospace companies, adapted for every conceivable operation — from managing complex shipping operations to designing rollercoasters, and from non-invasive tracking of endangered animal species to providing pattern-matching algorithms underpinning popular, online dating sites.
Since the catalog debuted in 2014, NASA has seen a dramatic increase in code sharing across government projects, Lockney said — substantially reducing costs to U.S. taxpayers.
“The demand for our software has grown steadily,” Lockney said. “Software is an increasingly significant portion of our technology portfolio, and these programs — everything from design tools to scheduling programs to satellite positioning systems — have myriad applications outside of their original mission use. We’re trying to make it as simple as possible for users to benefit from these valuable tools.”
The public response was even more overwhelming, he added, with more than 100,000 downloads of the catalog and millions of visitors to the website to date.
This surge of activity has spurred NASA to develop an approach to better serve these growing stakeholder communities — updating its software release procedures, automating processes, managing workflows with process-based metrics and building the infrastructure necessary to collect and maintain the agency’s available software assets.
The next step in the process, Lockney said, is to build a software repository that will further accelerate the speed and efficiency with which users can access NASA software codes. The agency also will simplify software use agreements and will implement a “click-wrap” agreement to access more easily a greater variety of available tools. These new features are expected to be in place by September 2015.
NASA’s Technology Transfer Program, managed by the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, ensures technologies developed for exploration and discovery missions are broadly available to the public.