Mapping tool open sourced

Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility has released into open source a mapping program that NASA has used to display data from and even help plan a number of missions.

NASA has used the Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing (JMars) application for the Mars Odyssey, Global Surveyor and Reconnaissance Orbiter spaceflights. Godard Space Flight Center also plans to use the program for the upcoming Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission to the moon.

Last month, the university released the source code of JMars under Version 3 of the GNU General Public License.

According to Eric Engle, one of the managers of the application, the development team is looking to get more feedback from wider use of the program. They hope others will use the program, which maps any ellipsoidal-shaped bodies. Engle presented JMars at the JavaOne conference held last week in San Francisco.

Developed eight years ago, the program was designed to provide a geographic information system-style interface for all the image data that NASA gathered about the red planet. "You can bring in a lot of different data and resources and view them on a map," Engle said. Users can scan multiple datasets, and look for particular geographically aware data gathered about a location, such as spectral analysis. Using contour data, the tool can render maps in 3-D.

The application works as a front end for terabytes of stored Mars images, Engle said. "The NASA missions have produced tremendous amounts of data, and without JMars' help, you'd have to download it, process it [and] aggregate it [yourself], and all those steps are time-consuming," he said. When a user requests an image of a certain location, the program retrieves maps from the server. The server then formats the maps and returns them to the client.

JMars is unique among mapping software in that it also offers a mission-planning or targeting capability. A researcher who is interested in obtaining an image of a certain plot of Mars surface can check to see if an orbiting craft will be passing over the location. If so, the researcher can have JMars request that an image be taken. The request is sent to the craft via NASA's Deep Space Network. After the next flyover, the image is delivered to the application.

The program was largely written in Java because of portability concerns. Many researchers use Sun Solaris, Apple Macintosh, Microsoft Windows and Linux, so it was essential to write one program that could work across diverse platforms, Engle said. The program is built from different modules, each of which offers a particular capability.

This is not the first open-source NASA mapping tool. The agency also offers its own open-source Earth mapping program, called WorldWind. The two programs are not related, though now that both programs are open source, JMars may borrow some code from WorldWind, Engle said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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