Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What is real?

Real math is real engineering. However in many domains of engineering, the math is the question.

One of the application objectives for Fv3 is spaceflight simulation. In the case of possible applications for Team FREDNET, simulation and navigation are very close siblings.

In these applications, fidelity is enhanced significantly when engineers and physicists are able to adapt the math in the software to the spacecraft design and performance. Significantly because errors grow substantially among the large numbers common to spaceflight computation, be it distance or velocity.

For example, when an engine fires a nonlinear and irregular acceleration is induced. This acceleration can be adequately described in a mathematical function of (time and) properties of the engine and spacecraft, and the use of the engine by the spacecraft. Without these enhancements, fidelity is affected.

In support of projects like these, the Lorv project is experimenting with the software structure of the Orekit astrodynamical mathematics library to better reveal its mathematics to users, and to better enable the adaptation of the math by users.

Another way of looking at this objective for Lorv is a classic example of one of the less critical but not less important strengths of the Java programming language.

As the Jela project experimented with, the Java programming language is interesting and powerful in a scripting role. Developing Orekit/Lorv for compatibility with scripting positions will empower with convenience and flexibility in tools designed for getting work done without reflection on the tool itself.

As a Software Engineer, I don't know the mathematics of many domains I encounter. I need only some essential familiarity with it in order to write code to implement someone else's math, or to ensure that transformations on code are doing the same math.

Working with people who do know the math is highly rewarding, as new vistas open before the mind's eye.

Those moments always remind me of the first time I saw the opening shot in George Lucas' most famous motion picture, when the atmospheric horizon of a planet looms into view -- filling the screen. I'd never seen such an image in such color and definition. It was 1977 and I was 11. I went back to see it seven times that summer, riding the two miles on my bike.

And of course if you're like me, the title of this essay echos with memories of another well known film. Far more recent. Kind of dark, but also a lot of fun.

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