Satellite orbiting Earth

NASA revs up tech transfer with open code catalog

NASA's new software catalog, which pulls together programs from different departments within the agency, is the initial phase of what could eventually result in a huge repository of NASA-developed code that will be made available to users outside the organization.

The catalog, which is available for now only in a PDF version, was published on April 10. This first version includes the complete collection of currently available programs, around 1,000 in all, and acts as a “one stop shop” for NASA software, said Dan Lockney, program executive for NASA’s Technology Transfer program.

“We have a plan to continue to build and expand upon this catalog,” he said. “We have even more software to process and make publicly available. Approximately 500 new and distinct codes are written each year, many of which have applications outside of NASA.”

Many of the programs are freely available to all U.S. citizens, but there are restrictions on some of the code, and a number can only be used by other federal agencies. Because of that, potential users won’t be able to just download the code. They’ll have go through a number of steps that will send them to software release authority (SRA) representatives at the agencies that developed the code.

The catalog covers 15 categories, including Business Systems and Project Management, Electronics and Electrical Power, Autonomous Systems and Data and Image Processing. The software represents what NASA believes are its best solutions to a wide array of problems.

NASA isn’t the first government agency to make its software available this way. In February, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) published a similar open source catalog of code, along with publications, data and experimental results.  Other agencies, such as the Department of Energy, also make software used at its labs and research facilities available to the public.

There’s no obvious theme to the development of these new catalogs, however. Though the overarching reason is likely a response to the administration’s open government push, each agency has its own goals. DARPA, for example, is hoping to use the catalog to build communities of experts that can help develop relevant software for the government.

"Our hope is that the computer science community will test and evaluate elements of our software and afterward adopt them as either standalone offerings or as components of their products,” Chris White, the DARPA program manager behind the effort, said at the release of the catalog.

NASA, by contrast, has a long history of technology transfer to the public. Over the past five years alone it has shared more than 5,000 pieces of code with people and organizations outside of the agency. It’s just that, until the new catalog was developed, it had no single and easy way of making its code available.

The agency will continue to develop the catalog, and the ways that people can access it, Lockney said. It plans to bring a searchable HTML version online shortly, followed by a central repository where the actual code will be stored. It also plans to streamline the process by which the software is shared, he said.


About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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