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Public Administration Code Release Communities: Dossier ONSFA

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Public Administration Code Release Communities: Dossier ONSFA
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Project contact person: Patrick Hogan. NASA Open Source Project Manager/World Wind Project Manager. United States.

Brief description of the project

World Wind is an open source 3D interactive world viewer originally created by NASA’s Learning Technologies project which provides education technology that facilitates learning, complements standard curricula and engages students. It was released in mid-2004. This first version of World Wind was developed in .NET as an application, but is now developing a cross-platform Java SDK (software development kit) so that developers can embed World Wind technology into their own applications. The funding to do this orginally came from the U.S. Department of Defense.

World Wind allows any user to zoom from outer space into any place on Earth using satellite imagery and elevation data to allow users to experience Earth terrain in visually rich 3D. This richness is derived from Blue Marble Next Generation, truecolor images with a detail of 500 miles per pixel and images from every month of the year, Landsat, images from 1999 through 2003 that make it possible to see your own city, neighborhood, or landmarks in your vicinity, United States Geological Survey data and ZoomIt, a large collection of up-to-date high resolution imagery. World Wind can display thousands of placenames all over the world and can also be expanded to include additional imagery and data.

World Wind technology also provides the government with absolute control over use of the technology, as well as absolute security due to code visibility, while also making industry and the world community more competitive in the area of solutions based on use of this open and standardized technology. These solutions can be proprietary, free, or open. World Wind technology focuses on standardized and optimized delivery of pixels, while allowing others to use this technology as the medium for information exchange. The primary goal of the project is to establish a national spatial data infrastructure (SDI), serving the criteria identified by the U.S. SDI, the European Commision INSPIRE directive and the United Nations SDI.

Target organization

Target organizations include anyone entity who has a need for custom geospatial data visualizations. Some examples of current clients include: World Bank, European Commission, NATO, U.S Government Agencies, European Space Agency, Japan Space Agency and some Fortune 100 companies.

Starting situation

World Wind began in the 2002/2003 under NASA Learning Technologies, a program to get 'NASA content' into the classroom. In January 2004 World Wind became one of the first NASA programs to be released as open source. World Wind coincidently existed approximately parallel to Keyhole (a software development company specializing in geospatial data visualization applications), though neither knew of each other at the time. Google, who bought Keyhole in October of 2004, delivers data that is proprietary and restricts use of its technology exclusively to the KML file format. This constraint limits the business opportunities and solution domain in the geospatial visualization arena.

NASA has more planetary information than any other entity on Earth and needs to have the tools necessary to work with planetary data that are part of the public domain. It is also vital that research, academia and the public have useful access to this data. This is made most possible with technology that can readily adapt to service those various needs. This includes the need for a broad spectrum of private companies who are free to use this technology in proprietary ways.

Approach and proposed solution

Since there is too much geospatial information to simply install particular needs into someone elses application, an SDK needed to be created so that develpers could install this visualization technology into their applications. An open source infrastructure that could be self perpetuated (unshackled by proprietary constraints) would best serve this cause.

World Wind open source technology standardizes the geospatial information exchange medium. This establishes the infrastructure for greater participation by the widest possible range of business enterprise from small to large. Tom Gaskins, World Wind’s technical manager, saw a cross-platform Java SDK as the best solution. Making data accessible, the data delivery mechanism is where the information experience begins. The World Wind Server delivers data according to the Open Geospatial Consortium international WMS standards.

Building an Application Programming Interface (API) centric SDK has been expressed as a difficult task. It requires an unusual amount of accommodation required for how others will use the technology. Building an optimized and adaptable technology is far more involved than simply building an application. World Wind technology must transparently 'plug-in' to other applications. World Wind is being crafted as an adaptable building block others construct with. Making it work requires accounting for many variables well beyond project control.

Together, the World Wind SDK client and WMS server provide the infrastructure for government, research and business communities, as well as education and public outreach, to both deliver and experience information.

Summary of technologies and project tools used

World Wind tries to stay away from dependency on other software. Most of the software they use is built within World Wind technology.

Software Development

  • Code Repository on NASA servers (started on Sourceforge, moved to internal servers to increase customer confidence).

  • JIRA. Bug and Issue Tracker (developed by Atlassian)

Technologies (Data Sources)

  • Blue Marble Next Generation. World Wind has a full copy of the Blue Marble, a spectacular true-color image of the entire Earth. Put together from data of a variety of satellites such as Terra and Aqua, the Blue Marble can be seen at 1 km per pixel resolution. Blue Marble Next Generation is streamed from the NASA servers at 0.5 km per pixel and in 12 versions, one for each month of year.

  • Landsat 7. Collection of images from 1999-2003 at15 m per pixel resolution. LandSat 7's resolution makes it possible to see your own city, neighborhood, or landmarks in your vicinity. Seeing the whole globe like this puts the world in context with scientifically accurate data.

  • United States Geological Survey Data. Provides topography maps of whole United States down to 1:24K scale, 1-Meter detail images of most of the United States and Urban Area images of most of the major U.S. cities down to detail of .25 Meters.

  • Zoomit. includes additional areas of high resolution imagery, such as New Zealand.

  • SRTM . Shuttle Radar Topography Missions) Combs LandSat 7 imagery with Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) Data, World Wind can display a dramatic view of the Earth at eye level.


  • Rapid Fire MODIS. Gets practically real time images from orbiting satellites with resolution down to 250 m. You can filter the MODIS data by date and by event. Data is then downloaded and displays an icon in World Wind showing what event it is and where it happened. You can zoom in to view the event.

  • WMS Browser. Web Mapping Server allows you to connect to any WMS server such as the included SVS.

  • SVS (Scientific Visualization Studio). Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) has produced a set of visually intense animations that demonstrate a variety of subjects such as hurricane dynamics and seasonal changes across the globe. World Wind can take these animations and play them directly on the world. Anyone can immediately grasp where the event is taking place as World Wind rotates automatically into view.

  • GLOBE. The GLOBE Program (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based education and science program. It is an interagency program funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), supported by the U.S. Department of State, and implemented through a cooperative agreement between NASA, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colorado and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Community governance model

Tom Gaskins, World Wind’s technical manager, is the principle project lead and he makes sure the project is foundational and not just solving a problem (stability, optimization). He makes the big decisions for the project. The rest of the governance is determined by test cases. Their governance could be considered test driven.

Their governance could be considered test-driven. Clients are building applications based on World Wind’s infrastructure for spatial data and World Wind developers work with them to achieve this. This could be called test case directed governance. What makes the software better is the direction World Wind follows. Every time a new test case appears that World Wind can’t address, time is allotted and a decision is made to address it.

Web Mapping Services Protocols also play a role in the direction the project. Government entities don’t play a direct administrative role in the community, but the project manager administrates their needs and funds. Government clients with an interest in enhancements to the World Wind product may determine future enhancements through direct funding of new development effort.

Licensing. World Wind is currently licensed under the NASA Open Source license v1.3

Community operating model

The project consists of a small team of NASA-contracted developers and open source community (WorldWindCentral). According to their forum, there are 42 active members. The majority of contracted developers are colocated in Seattle. When new ideas materialize or a client wants a new feature, it gets posted to the forum. A developer then takes responsibility for it. When the World Wind software is updated, a nightly build becomes available and the community at large gives them information/feedback reporting bugs, code analysis, and other debugging. This development process is highly transparent.

The project is currently not funded by NASA but is developed by NASA staff, externally funded contractors and open source community members. The data used in the project is provided by NASA. The World Wind Central forum community is the official knowledge base and support site for this portion of the project. It is loosely affiliated with NASA, operated by an independent non-profit - Free Earth Foundation which maintains and fundraises for the forum.

Model of knowledge transfer

The World Wind Program manager serves as the liason to new agency clients. The code itself is available throuogh an open source license. In addition to available extensive project documentation and community forums, the NASA technical team provides guidance to other agencies personnel as they utilize World Wind through interagency agreements.

Training model

An individual interested in contributing to World Wind can first go the WorldWindCentral wiki where they can find documentation regarding working with code, creating documentation, working with people in the forum or testing bugs. The resources on their wiki explain World Wind’s development model, roadmap and methods of collaboration in development. A “Staying up to date” section has been created to help individuals stay current with what’s going on in the project.

Most active developers involved in this project are highly talented and skilled. In a standard open source development community, the core developers, a smaller percent of the community, have extensive knowledge and skills and do most of the committing and signficant work in the project. It has been noted that NASA employees also participate in the development community and therefore the knowledge base and skill can be expected to be higher than a standard open source project directly supported by community developers.


High level planning and direction of the project are facilitated by Tom Gaskins, World Wind’s technical manager and designer. The project is also directed by future needs of clients and funding directed toward specific features.

Tools used to create the community

vBulletin software (proprietary) is used for WorldWindCentral’s forum and profile pages. The servers are bought and maintained through donations and Google AdSense. The World Wind Central organization Free Earth Foundation (FEF) has found companies willing to host their site for free and pay the bandwidth costs. FEF provides the servers and the companies collocate them. A community member remotely manages and maintains the servers from Poland (the servers are located in the U.S.).

Change management

Through JIRA, a proprietary Bug and Issue Tracker developed by Atlassian.


NASA Software of the Year Awards in 2009.

World Wind technology is used in multiple NASA programs as well as other government agencies and can be used without reservation, in any project or mission working with satellite or other geospatial data.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), uses World Wind technology for the SERVIR program. SERVIR (Spanish for "to serve") is a satellite visualization system that monitors the environment of Central America. It helps track and combat wildfires, improves land use and agricultural practices, and assists in response to natural disasters.

NASA’s Search and Rescue Mission Office at Goddard Space Flight Center, is funding development of an application used to assist in response of downed aircraft. Rescue operations using last known positions from radar and other sources, are able to reconstruct and ‘fly’ an aircraft path to study any point of view, including that of the pilot.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center uses World Wind technology for ILIAD, the Integrated Lunar Information Architecture for Decision Support. This geospatial information system will result in a new decision-making application that NASA can use to plan and carry out future robotic and crewed missions to the Moon.

NASA’s Headquarters has funded World Wind ($300k over two years) as part of a ROSES (Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences) ACCESS (Achieving competence in Computing, Engineering, and Space Science) project in collaboration with the University of Alabama Huntsville. This project integrates the following applications:

  • World Wind, Interactive Visualizer and Image Classifier (IVICS).

  • Algorithm Development and Mining (ADaM)

Thus having a toolkit into a single seamless tool for research, incorporating algorithms into World Wind that facilitate accessing, mining, analysis, and visualization of geospatial data. The project is titled, Globally Leveraged Integrated Data Explorer for Research (GLIDER).

Other Aerospace Uses. World Wind is being used to provide access to all of ESA’s satellite data and JAXA’s moon data.

Commercial Uses. World Wind is being used to manage the infrastructure and supply-chain of the world’s tenth largest oil company, PEMEX. General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Motorola, and Orkash are just a few companies developing applications using World Wind.

Other Aeronautical Uses. World Wind is being used as the visualization technology for the Army Air Traffic Control.

U.S. Government Uses. Several federal agencies are using and funding World Wind. These include the Department of Energy, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. Geological Society (USGS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are building a geospatial data management tool based on World Wind technology. The USDA has provided World Wind with $300K worth of high-resolution imagery covering the continental U.S. for the purpose of helping to manage the agricultural industry with regard to ongoing empirical study of climate change.

Uses by Other Government. Geoscience Australia (USGS equivalent) is using World Wind for public access to geologic data. World Wind Gaea+ features a rich combination of 3D buildings, landmarks, streets, and high-resolution aerial imagery for the country Slovenia.

Other Applications. JSatTrak is a Satellite tracking program that allows users to predict the position of any satellite in real time or in the past or future. It uses advanced SGP4/SDP4 algorithms developed by NASA/NORAD or customizable high precision solvers to propagate the satellite orbits.

Example list of World Wind’s clients:

  • European Space Agency (ESA)

  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

  • PEMEX (Mexico Petroleum Company)

  • Government of Australia

  • World Bank

  • Sun Microsystems

  • IBM

  • Northrop Grumman

  • General Dynamics

  • U.S. Navy

  • U.S. Army

  • U.S. Air Force (TDKC)


  • NATO Advanced Research Workshop




Because World Wind is not an application, but a software development kit, it allows applications to focus on information intelligence. These solution technologies now do not have to continually duplicate the essential elements for data visualization and data serving. Since World Wind provides the infrastructure for information exchange, efforts to provide value can concentrate on solutions. In this way NASA stimulates entrepreneurial enterprise, provides the government with control over the information exchange medium, and enhances the ability for the world to communicate and share information. Because World Wind is a NASA Open Source Agreement technology, U.S. government agencies, private enterprise, and the international community have begun to standardize on this NASA technology. This includes multiple Department of Defense agencies, multiple space agencies, several governments, and Fortune 100 companies. The advanced functionality of this NASA technology is accelerating development of solutions worldwide that serve both proprietary and non-proprietary interests and simultaneously allows for any degree of proprietary data exchange and authenticated access. World Wind also eliminates the difficulty associated in accessing a myriad of common and legacy data by providing translators for these data formats: JPG, TIFF, PNG, NITF, RPF, CADRG, CIB, VPF.

Key aspects to success

Creating an open source community with an open souce project was essential for cultivating an interested community. In addition to supporting NASA’s mission and program, the project enabled innovation. The value of the project was well understood to the agency leadership. Top-notch key personnel make working with a small team feasible.

The ability to attract other agencies as customers and broaden the user community within government contributes to the longevity of the project.

Lessons learned

Open Source best practices were used extensively throughout the project as well as the values of openness and transparence. Maintaining end-to-end control over the technical environment was beneficial. Managing the postings and engaging with the community by project developers via the community portal was a large effort that was better suited to resources outside of the development Team.

Support from NASA, whose developers visit the community’s forum regularly, opened many opportunities and many free services. The NASA affiliation and support from a NASA project manager hold a lot of weight. World Wind personnel also visit the forums often to participate in disucussions, answer questions, and provide support and “champion” presense.

Establishing and managing a forum and then effectively engaging the community via that forum (so they feel real and valuable) was big jobs in addition to the actual code development. The end result is people end up helping each other a lot as well as the code benefiting from a worldwide debugging community along with the code contributions as well. This benefited both the agency and the development community.

Early experience at the time NASA managed the project’s community forum required consistent management and oversight of potentially offensive and off-topic discussion. Two options presented themselves: choosing between limiting the community and shutting the forum down. WorldWindCentral took over the operations and placed the forum outside of the US government domain in support of a more open yet still tended community and it was successful.

Barriers encountered in the implementation of the community

The early community required extensive and consistent oversight from NASA due to potentially offensive and off-topic discussion generated in the project’s forum. This early limitation to social interaction and openness that NASA’s policy required limited the effectiveness of the community. The WorldWindCentral community was able to overcome this by only loosly affiliating with NASA and therefore allowing the open forum (free expression and community-centric social exchange) to flourish and, therefore, strengthen the the project.

Barriers in the maintenance of the community

As a funded, steady state project, WorldWind reports no barriers to the maintenance of the community. So far the system for the World Wind Community Forum (portal) has worked well, but it is run by a small team and the project could easily run into problems should anyone leave the group or become ill. In a worst case scenario the company hosting the server could withdraw its support. The community manager expressed concerns that it would be extremely difficult for to run all services should they have to pay for bandwidth/hosting, as they are operating as a non-profit and would likely need to scale back what we can offer. There are also no hours for marketing and outreach regarding World Wind technologies or expanding the development community.


World Wind’s project manager emphasizes the importance of the association between the project and its government affiliation (NASA), even though it doesn’t receive funds from them. Leveraging the reputation of NASA has cultivated support from other agencies, as well as generated interest in the project and consequently, improving the community. It has also seems apparent that an open community, one that is not constrained by the social policies established by a government agency, has improved the project by matching the openness of the software with the openness of communicaton.

Since World Wind is a software development kit, it allows applications to focus on information intelligence. Agencies develop their own applications and therefore need to interact with the community directly.

Executive summary

Originally created as an educational program in 2004, in 2006 the Department of Energy (DOE), impressed by World Wind.NET, asked NASA to make World Wind into a platform-neutral technology. Two significant decisions were made: re-factor World Wind using cross-platform Java and re-architect World Wind from an application to an API centric SDK that could be more easily used by other applications.

The re-factored and re-designed version of World Wind has greatly improved the versatility of this technology and the degree of acceptance in the software application development community, as witnessed by the significant government and commercial use of this technology. Since World Wind provides the infrastructure for information exchange, efforts to provide value can concentrate on solutions. In this way NASA stimulates entrepreneurial enterprise, provides the government with control over the information exchange medium, and enhances the ability for the world to communicate and share information.

Moving the community portal off government servers also served to improve the projects ability to grow the project as well as leave agency technical resources to focus on core development. A strategy of supporting a fully open community allows actors from outside of government to participate in the project, furthering the adoption of the software and broadening its use in a range of applications