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Why I’m Not a Big Fan of COTS Software

February 5, 2012

My first job after graduate school involved the independent verification and validation (IV&V) of the guidance software for the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS). The most important thing that task taught me was not to trust analysis performed by others until you perform that same analysis yourself using as many analytic and software techniques as possible.

A typical example was a problem we found in the state transition matrix subroutine.  It was based on Goodyear’s method but was not working correctly.  We proved this by creating a version using numerical derivatives and two versions based on other semi-analytic methods.

There are several good commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software products available for aerospace mission analysis.  They usually work well for exactly the analysis they were designed to do.

However, some of the reasons I’m not fond of COTS software are as follows;

(1) inadequate information about the underlying algorithms, fundamental constants and computational assumptions

(2) incomplete or minimal testing of the software

(3) never quite does everything you need

(4) often difficult to add your own features

(5) bug fixes and updates are not always timely

Therefore, I tend to create the analysis capability I need and not rely on COTS software.

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One Comment
  1. Dear David,

    My more than 20 years of personal experience in the field of aerospace engineering is almost the same with regard to COTS. I use COTS like STK very extensively. At the same time, I have found out that to utilize any COTS to the best possible extent, I need to develop my own codes, even if those may not be able to match all the capabilities of a particular COTS (atleast in the first place). In this context, I think codes like GMAT and STA are movements in the right direction. Since source codes are available, one can tinker with those packages.

    Priyankar

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