RE: NASA/OIG to be replaced by USAF

From: Bradley P. Allen (
Date: Sat Dec 20 2003 - 12:53:59 EST

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    I think that what Ted is proposing could be one of the greatest things that
    ever happened to this pursuit of ours. In essence, we are talking about
    Project Moonwatch redux, with fifty years of sensing, computing,
    telecommunications and robotics advances to leverage in dramatically
    reducing the costs and increasing the capabilities of such a system.
    > There was a burst of software development in the mid to late 1980's, as
    > reasonably powerful PCs became affordable for home use, but we
    > have not fully
    > exploited the enormous power of present day PCs.
    One thing that stands in the way of moving this proposal forward is the lack
    of open source implementations of orbit determination and observation
    reduction software for individuals to learn from, modify and enhance. We are
    largely dependent on the handful of excellent but black-box programs in
    common use by the community today. Losing OIG is one thing, but imagine the
    impact if the implementers we have took their programs offline for whatever
    reasons, like Dave Cappellucci did several years ago. To get started in this
    area, one has to engineer an implementation from scratch using resources
    like the algorithms in Escobar and similar print resources, or
    reverse-engineer the Fortran code from the Spacewatch technical report. Not
    a good basis on which to mount a call to arms of this nature.
    This community has a globally recognized commitment to the responsible but
    free and open dissemination of data in the form of orbital elements. For
    Ted's project to get off the ground, I believe the same stance must be taken
    towards the code that uses and produces the data. One or more existing
    implementations could presumably be contributed to a code repository to act
    as gold standards, and the work of reengineering these into the system Ted
    envisions could begin with a group of contributors potentially an order of
    magnitude larger than the core of experts that we rely on today.
    Further, our community needs an online resource that provides a framework
    for informing a new generation of developers about the many subtle issues
    involved in implementing this class of application in languages more suited
    to collaborative development and Web-based deployment. The tools to do this
    are in hand and in common use today: weblogs and Wikis for requirements and
    design discussions, source control repositories such as Sourgeforge for code
    management and dissemination, etc. This class of collaborative software also
    provides the communication framework for the massively distributed, loosely
    coupled observational effort being proposed.
    Another issue that is less serious but an impediment nonetheless to moving
    development in this area forward is the collection of data interchange
    formats in common use. TLEs date from the punched card era; the various
    observational reporting formats in use by the community have similarly
    compressed and brittle syntax. In an online environment where standards such
    as RSS and Atom are being rapidly deployed and evolved by small groups of
    dedicated specialists, we can do much better at representing this data in a
    humanly-readable, far more parsable fashion using an XML format. Backwards
    compatibility with the existing formats need not be sacrificed.
    There's a lot more to be discussed. I wonder if a more appropriate venue
    might be the rarely-utilized Satobs-SW list, whose time perhaps has now
    arrived. - BPA
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