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More open source at ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) wants to publish more of its software under open source licences. It is considering to use a source code tracking system to help untangle code that can be made available as open source and programs that cannot for whatever reason.

ESA’s plans for open source are the topic of a case study published by OSOR last week.

According to the case study, most ESA applications are developed by contractors and the agency does not have direct control over their development process. Before they can share such applications with others, the researchers need to make sure that its code does not include or make use of code with incompatible licences.

ESA says its open source strategy promotes collaboration.

At the moment, the agency is using open source licences mainly for applications related to earth observation and and earth science. However, according to the OSOR case study, it is considering using these types of licences for other software systems.

ESA wants to reduce the number of licences it uses and this should benefit its open source project.


The case study also briefly introduces five open source applications made available by ESA, such as BEAM, tools for viewing, analysing and processing of remote sensing data. Another example is BEAT, a set of tools that helps accessing and analysing atmospheric data collected by ESA’s Environmental Satellite (Envisat).

In November 2009, ESA asked ICT contractors to help build a repository for hosting and developing its open source applications. At the time ESA initially wanted to determine the requirements and architecture and prepare the implementation of a repository of open source space applications.