Core SPICE System Development


Develop ancillary information technology components that support:

  • mission simulation
  • mission design and evaluation
  • observation planning
  • mission operations
  • science data analysis
  • coordination and correlation of science results across instruments and missions
  • visualization of our solar system

Advocate the broadest possible deployment of this multimission, multidiscipline technology

Support NASA technology transfer, education and outreach initiatives to provide appropriate SPICE (Spacecraft, Planet, Instrument, "C-matrix", Events) knowledge to those communities


Implement core, multimission capabilities requested by customers or determined by the best judgment of the NAIF Group (Not to include mission-specific capabilities)

Coordinate with projects and other funding sources to share development costs

Seek out and provide special assistance to partners who can build value added SPICE-based tools to be shared with the space science community

Focus on high quality to build and maintain user confidence

Allocate appropriate time and implement components to support tech transfer and outreach programs


The SPICE core development program consists of many small tasks, of which the collective whole meets the objectives of the program. To help provide some context the accomplishments listed below are grouped under one of four themes.

   Theme 1: Support for Flight Projects

  • Extended SPICE technology for surface rovers
  • Developed shape model for small, irregular bodies
  • Developed new, prototype Control Net kernel
  • Began development of Experimenter's Notebook extensions to handle non-ASCII information
  • Supported solar system visualization and modeling with ephemeris products

   Theme 2: Support for Mission Design

  • Implemented mechanism for producing position-only SPK files

   Theme 3: Broadly Useful Core Technology

  • Re-implemented the core NAIF Toolkit in C
  • Completed functional design of Sky Catalog system and began detailed design
  • Implemented C-Kernel utilities
  • Implemented a prototype canonical format for binary SPICE kernel files
  • Implemented a mechanism for applying a polynomial fit to discreet pointing data
  • Provided a means for run-time translation of numeric IDs for new spacecraft and target bodies
  • Began work on Object Oriented SPICE
  • Supported Ephemeris Improvements

   Theme 4: User Support and Outreach• Added new SPICE Tutorials

  • Added new SPICE Tutorials
  • Continued outreach to potential new customers
  • Produced instructions for Interfacing IDL to SPICE
  • Continued technology transfer to commercial companies


Nearly every NASA planetary flight project has embraced the use of SPICE for mission design, mission operations, science planning and science data analysis. Numerous other NASA endeavors are also using SPICE: the astrophysics missions SVLBI, SIRTF and SIM, the space physics mission Genesis, the Deep Space Network's metric predicts subsystem used to point antennas and tune transmitters and receivers, and the DSN's antenna scheduling subsystem are examples. SPICE design concepts are being infused in JPL's new Mission Data System, and are achieving ever broader use in JPL's Advanced Multimission Operations System components. SPICE methods and standards are adopted as the ancillary data standards of NASA's Planetary Data System.

The SPICE technology has been extended to landers and is now being further enhanced for use with upcoming Mars rovers. The potential for further adaptation for balloons and submersibles exists. With the backing of key scientists and the Deep Space Network SPICE is being adopted by foreign space agencies (ESA and ESOC, NASDA, ISAS, and [earlier]  the Russian Space Agency).

True multimission design, strict adherence to well designed and highly documented standards, careful testing for broad portability of data and code, flexibility that allows continuous improvement and extension, and attention to customer support are characteristics that justify the investment in SPICE. Adoption of standards is especially important to support correlative studies between past and future missions (e.g. Viking and MGS, or Voyager and Galileo, or Voyager and Cassini), and between missions of different space agencies (NASA, ESA, ISAS). These standards also help NASA's technology transfer goals, outreach to the education sector and even outreach to some of the more capable and inquisitive members of the general public. The standards and tools promote easy and correct use of NASA ancillary data while reducing the investment in both money and time needed as customers move from one mission to the next.


Some of the program's activities are on-going, particularly the outreach component. Work on those items will continue into FY00. In addition new developments are planned, including the following:

  • Predict C-kernel generator to support mission design and mission modeling
  • Establish a comprehensive set of web pages for informing the SPICE user community about new or updated tools, tutorials, common problems, bug fixes, third party SPICE-based applications and future plans
  • System for providing both high-precision and high-performance access to the entire collection of comet and asteroid ephemerides, including use of the latest observational data
  • More flexibility in creating SPICE-format ephemeris (SPK) files
  • Provide additional SPICE data characterization tools, including tools using widely available visualization capabilities


NAIF has established several partnerships to support and enrich the evolution of core SPICE capabilities:

Development Area


Mission Modeling

  • Model-based Data Analysis Task
  • Mission Analysis Software Team

Data Visualization

  • Solar System Visualization Project
  • Aerospace Corporation   (SOAP)
  • Analytical Graphics Corporation   (STK)
  • Applied Coherent Technology Corporation   (ProView)

SPICE Core Development

  • Russian Aeronautics and Space Agency

Point of Contact

Charles Acton

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

(818) 354-3869