WASHINGTON -- Computer programs that are used to define safety margins for fiery spacecraft re-entries and help detect planets outside our solar system are co-winners of NASA's 2007 Software of the Year Award.
Software engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., developed the Data-Parallel Line Relaxation, or DPLR, which is used to analyze and predict the extreme environments human and robotic spacecraft experience during super high-speed entries into planetary atmospheres.
At NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., software engineers developed the Adaptive Modified Gerchberg-Saxton Phase Retrieval program. The software uses a telescope's science camera with innovative and robust algorithms to characterize possible errors that limit its imaging performance. The software has been integrated into calibration control loops to correct those errors, and can achieve orders of magnitude improvement in sensitivity and resolution.
The DPLR simulates the intense heating, shear stresses, and pressures a spacecraft endures as it travels through atmospheres to land on Earth or other planets. It is capable of creating a highly accurate, simulated entry environment that exceeds the capability of any test facility on Earth, allowing engineers to design and apply thermal protection materials suited to withstand such intense heating environments.
The DPLR team members include Michael J. Wright, James Brown, David Hash, Matt MacLean, Ryan McDaniel, David Saunders, Chun Tang and Kerry Trumble.
JPL's software can be applied to other sciences and systems that use light, such as laser communications and extrasolar planet detection.
JPL's Adaptive Modified Gerchberg-Saxton Phase Retrieval software already is in use at the California Institute of Technology's Palomar Observatory, in northern San Diego County. The software played a significant role in designing such next-generation telescopes as NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2013.
An eight-person team from JPL is responsible for the Adaptive Modified Gerchberg-Saxton Phase Retrieval software: Scott Basinger, Siddarayappa Bikkannavar, David Cohen, Joseph Green, Catherine Ohara, David Redding and Fang Shi.
Early work for the software was based on efforts to correct the vision of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. After initial images came back blurry, engineers worked for months to determine the problem. Eventually, astronauts traveled to the telescope to install a corrective lens based on telescope-imaging errors.
A NASA Software Advisory Panel reviews entries and recommends winners to NASA's Inventions and Contributions Board for confirmation. Entries are nominated for developing innovative technologies that significantly improve the agency's exploration of space and maximize scientific discovery.
Both Ames and JPL have won or been co-winner of the award seven times, including three out of the past four years, since the NASA Software of the Year Award was initiated in 1994.