AIAA Space 2007

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  • Accepted for poster session
  • Paper due 10 Aug 2007


Opening Space for Humanity - Applying Open Source Concepts towards Human Exploration and Development of Space

Extended Abstract

The open source paradigm has caused major shifts in the way that software is developed, tested, used, maintained, and enhanced. A significant fraction of the infrastructure underpinning the Internet is based upon open source software, and a number of major commercial open source software projects exist for creating a wide variety of professional software applications. As just one example, SourceForge.net, a major open source software portal has over 1.5 million registered users and close to 150,000 projects. The open source concepts fostered in the software realm are also now transitioning to a variety of other fields. One example is Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia, which features user generated content under a free/open source license; Wikipedia has grown to include millions of articles in over a hundred languages. Another example is MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative which aims to put all of the educational materials from MIT's undergraduate- and graduate-level courses online, free and openly available to anyone, anywhere.

With the open source paradigm gaining traction in a variety of fields, the question arises as to in what ways open source concepts can be applied towards space endeavors. This paper both examines the potential for applying open source towards human space activities and highlights space-related areas where open source concepts are already being applied. We find that open source holds much promise for benefiting space endeavors. Open source can clearly be applied in the space software arena, including in modeling and design tools, ground software, and flight software. This paradigm can also be applied beyond the software arena, in areas such as entire system designs, reference data, system verification/validation procedures and results, and relevant education and training materials.

This paper includes a number of observations related to the potential for applying open source concepts towards human space activities, including:

1) There exist a number of technical, financial, and political barriers to human expansion into space.

2) New and more fully developed technologies, systems, and tools will be of assistance in breaking down the technical barriers to the growing human exploration and settlement of space.

3) Human expansion into space captivates a large number of people around the world, although many of them are not at present actively involved in making it happen.

4) Many people around the world have skills relevant to advancing the human exploration and development of space, including a great many who are not currently involved in doing so.

5) Significant activity is already underway around the world in government, academia, industry, and the non-profit sector towards advancing the human exploration and development of space, although frequently much work is duplicated or lacks adequate focus to make a true contribution.

6) Information technologies are advancing rapidly and can enable space developmentrelated collaboration and the sharing of models, tools, methods, results, designs, and other knowledge. Doing so will enable an individual or group to build upon earlier work more directly and will provide greater focus as to what work is worth engaging in.

7) Having an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution towards space exploration and development provides an inspiration and incentive for individuals to learn the math, science, and engineering skills involved in so doing.

8) Having a chance to be actively involved in space exploration and settlement activities makes one a greater supporter of such endeavors.

9) Having a common, open source resource-base on which to draw will allow government, industry, and academia to focus on the truly innovative aspects of their endeavors, rather than having to recreate existing capabilities.