Late last month, the Goddard-led GMAT team unveiled the General Mission Analysis Tool R2012a, the latest in a line of beta feature-development releases that we’ve been putting out for the past five years. This is an important milestone for the project: earlier this year our team switched almost entirely to validation, documentation, and QA in preparation for our first production-quality release, currently scheduled for early next year. R2012a represents a feature-complete preview of that release.
The General Mission Analysis Tool (GMAT) is a space trajectory simulation, analysis, and optimization system developed by a team made up of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and private industry partners. It is developed as open source under the NASA Open Source Agreement: not only is the source code for each release available for download, but the primary development repository is hosted publicly at SourceForge.net. Here at GSFC, it’s been used as a primary or secondary design tool on many of our most exciting missions: LCROSS, ARTEMIS, LRO, MMS, OSIRIS, and others. And externally, it’s been used by entities as varied as the Air Force Research Lab, Iowa State University, and the European Space Agency. Contributors to this release included NASA GSFC civil servants, Thinking Systems Inc., and A.I. Solutions.
The R2012a release offers some exciting improvements from the last year of development:
- Ground track plot: GMAT can now show a two-dimensional ground track of your spacecraft on any planet or celestial body you choose.
- Orbit Designer: Now you can design an (Earth-centered) orbit as easily as choosing a type and a small set of defining parameters. For example, a geostationary orbit can now be created with just one click.
- Preview features: We’ve included previews of an eclipse locator feature, which can detect when a spacecraft will enter and exit shadow regions, and of a C-language interface to GMAT’s modeling features.
- Many others: This version of GMAT includes many smaller improvements to its modeling capabilities, performance, and usability.
As mentioned above, this is the last of the feature-driven beta versions that we’ve been releasing since 2007. As of this spring, we’ve switched almost entirely to quality improvement. We’re making a full sweep through the system, going feature-by-feature and making sure everything is spec’d, tested, and documented, all leading to our first production release this winter. The coming year is going to be an important one for the project: the production version will open the doors for collaboration and public engagement far beyond their current levels, and we’re working hard to get ourselves into a position to take advantage of that. Look for many changes to GMAT’s public-facing infrastructure and community development efforts in the coming months.