NASA opens GIS components to third-party use

SAN FRANCISCO'Features in a popular NASA geomapping program are now available as services that can be used by third-party applications. Developers can have their programs tap World Wind's satellite imagery streams coordinated by NASA for their own geospatial software, according to Tom Gaskins, technical director for the project.

NASA's first major open-source project, World Wind started out as a 3-D viewer for satellite imagery. In recent years, however, other programs such as Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth have eclipsed the viewer in popularity. So when the project managers rewrote the application'moving it from a Microsoft .NET platform to a Java one'they changed its core mission from viewer to geospatial information service provider.

'World Wind is a component, not an application,' Gaskins said, speaking at the JavaOne conference being held this week. 'World Wind's role is to give a background for another application but otherwise stay out of the way.'

When run on its own, World Wind presents a user with an image of the Earth. The user can zoom down to a particular area for more detailed photos, which the application stitches together to provide a continuous view. The software can also render the terrain in 3-D, allowing users to gauge elevations and contours of an area. NASA provides some of the imagery and topological information, and third-party government and commercial sources provide the rest. As the viewer navigates to a particular location, NASA servers deliver the imagery on a just-in-time basis.

Now outside developers can use that same functionality in their own programs and draw from the same datasets. The agency provides a library of cross-platform Java classes that can be downloaded by developers. When called from within the developer's program, the classes can be used to automatically pull in and position terrain imagery for the viewer.

At the presentation, Darren Humphrey, chief technology officer at software vendor DISTI, demonstrated a flight simulation application DISTI built that uses World Wind imagery as a backdrop. The software mimics the cockpit of an F-16 aircraft, including live instrument panels. The user can fly over terrain, the imagery for which was provided by World Wind. By using World Wind, the company cut development time of the application to three weeks, Humphrey said.

About the Author

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


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