Open source aeronautics

The aeronautics industry is today becoming ever more accessible for users attracted to this subject or those who would like to know more about it. The days of watching a rocket take off or an astronaut landing on the moon are long gone. We can now see these events live, as if they were part of a movie, and even choose the camera offering the best shot. Surprising, isn’t it?

It’s a great chance for enthusiasts who have always dreamt about taking part in an aerospace programme.

Not only can we do that, but we can also take an active part in the projects NASA is developing (https://www.nasa.gov/). Any user can now collaborate in the programming area, be it by commenting on the errors they find in its applications or by changing the source code. Many may well ask, their code?

Well, the answer is, “Yes, their source code”. NASA has recently published the source code of around 1000 applications it has used in its experiments in space. We can now see how they have made them and even change parameters so the product continues improving. Several projects are well worth singling out. It’s surprising what one can learn from using these applications.

There’s a reason behind everything… And it’s simple: aeronautics is making ever more use of open source code because anybody can take part and enhance a program using this open source philosophy. It’s a great chance for enthusiasts who have always dreamt about taking part in an aerospace programme.

A good example is OpenVSP (http://www.openvsp.org)/), which allows you to view 3D designs of aircraft and conduct analyses on these models. This kind of software is used to calculate parameters like the ones involved in designing wings, ailerons, etc. Here’s a video to help you begin using it. Check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMRn_F0_yvU

Another example is a program used by NASA which simulates the behaviour of the robots it sends to space, the so-called rovers (1). The software is called OpenMCT and allows you to view all movements made by the vehicle or the temperature of the ground it’s on, battery levels, the Martian atmosphere, atmospheric pressure, at what exact point of the planet you are at and even a template containing all the parameters you want to view on screen. All you need to get all this is an Internet connection. The link is: https://openmct-demo.herokuapp.com

It’s time to let your imagination run wild with these programs. Get to know some new programs, and who knows if one day your designs will be orbiting in space above the Earth.

The most important thing about all this is that an aeronautical point of reference like NASA is advocating people who don’t form part of its organisation and is willing to attract talent outside its offices. It really is a breath of fresh air.


(1) Rovers, also known as astromobiles, are a spaceexploration vehicle designed to move around on the surface of a planet or other astronomical objects. Some of them have been designed to carry passengers during manned space flights and others as fully or partially autonomous robotic vehicles.



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