FreeFlyer 7.0 preview, NASA Orion EFT-1, FreeFlyer 6.11 new features and The Deep Space Trajectory Explorer Tool

November 14, 2014

Coming in 2015: FreeFlyer 7.0

Back in 2007, FreeFlyer 5.6 was due for an upgrade and we readied the next version as usual, tentatively deemed version 5.7. However, this new version had a completely revamped User Interface, the first orbit determination suite, and several other features that made us view it as not just a major release, but a game-changing release. Thus we decided to call it FreeFlyer 6.0.

Now as we near 2015, a.i. solutions is excited to announce that the next version of FreeFlyer will also be a game-changer, and we’re going to call it FreeFlyer 7.0. While the full list of new features is not ready to share yet, we can share the two that warrant the most attention:

  • FreeFlyer 7.0 will include a new Application Programming Interface (API). Users will now be able to control FreeFlyer directly from custom applications written in C, C#, or Java without the need to resort to system calls or message bus interfaces. This opens up a world of opportunities for using FreeFlyer’s computational engine to
    accomplish any number of flight dynamics tasks from custom user programs.
  • FreeFlyer 7.0 will introduce the addition of a Linux version of the runtime mode of FreeFlyer, ff.exe. Users will no longer need to resort to virtual machines (VMs) to run FreeFlyer on Linux. This new version will contain 100% of the functionality as its Windows ff.exe counterpart. Users wanting to run FreeFlyer on Linux will need at least one copy of the Windows FreeFlyer.exe desktop application in order to write Mission Plans. Beginning in 2015, we will offer a new licensing option to all our customers to obtain ff.exe licenses on either Windows or Linux platforms.

NASA JSC to use FreeFlyer for first Orion test flight

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is currently being developed to transport humans beyond Low Earth Orbit.  Its maiden test flight, Engineering Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), is scheduled to launch on December 4th atop a Delta 4 Heavy launcher. The flight is to be controlled from the NASA Johnson Space Center, where a new ground system is under development to support mission operations.  The EFT-1 ground system uses FreeFlyer to provide flight dynamics computations during planning, training, and real-time operations.   The FreeFlyer-based components of the JSC ground system include trajectory propagation, acquisitions, and orbit determination. This example FreeFlyer visualization depicts the orbital path of MPCV as it passes its maximum mission altitude of more than 3,600 miles.

 Orion EFT 1 FF BLog

Available now – FreeFlyer 6.11

a.i. solutions is pleased to announce that FreeFlyer 6.11 is now available for download! This new release contains a host of new functionality as well as enhancements to existing capabilities.

To support our growing list of customers and missions that use FreeFlyer operationally for Orbit Determination (OD), we put a heavy focus on upgrading the FreeFlyer OD system across the board in this new release. FreeFlyer 6.11 includes multiple new options for processing and analyzing spacecraft tracking data,  resulting in both faster performance and increased accuracy. Here’s a detailed look at what’s new in FreeFlyer 6.11:

Inclusion of the Variational Equations for Orbit Determination processing and covariance propagation

  • Significantly improves runtime over Numeric method
  • Improves accuracy over both Numeric and J2 Semi-Analytic methods
  • Works with BatchLeastSquaresOD and KalmanFilterOD objects

Orbit Determination solutions in the Equinoctial element set

  • Supported in all three OD estimation methods
  • Supports covariance conversion between Cartesian and Equinoctial element sets
  • Supports limited OD solutions, such as constraining the plane of the orbit

 Addition of Right Ascension and Declination measurement processing

  • Added to GroundStationObservations and SpacecraftObservations
  • Supported in all three OD objects: BatchLeastSquaresOD, KalmanFilterOD,

Multiple additions to the BatchLeastSquaresOD object

  • Added the ability to load observation data prior to calling Iterate() method
  • Combined use of the Cowell propagator and Variational Equations can lead to a
    50-90% improvement in runtime

Improved support of BRTS and TDRS Tracking Data processing

  • Improved Universal Tracking Data Format (UTDF) parsing
  • Simplified usage model for BRTS observation processing
  • Added BRTS and TDRS Observation support to the Tracking Data Editor for
    processing Lists of Observations

Allow control over FreeFlyer’s Integrated Development Environment (IDE)

  • “Full Access” for MissionPlan development and execution, and “Execute-Only” for MissionPlan execution
  • Allows IDE Mode to be set based on User Group security settings

Miscellaneous Enhancements and improvements

  • Cowell propagator now included in FreeFlyer Mission
  • Speed improvements for all integrators
  • Added min/max functions to FreeFlyer script syntax
  • Added more options for GroundStation and Sensor masking interpolation
  • Improved the performance of Planetary ephemeris processing
  • Improved Database logging and diagnostics
  • All installers/executables are now signed with a security certificate

Comet Siding Spring

The space community was abuzz recently about a close approach of the comet Siding Spring with Mars. a.i. solutions’ FreeFlyer Tech Support engineer Michael Barton created a FreeFlyer video depicting the fly-by, along with the orbits of several Mars and Earth orbiting spacecraft.

Email us at to receive a free copy of the Mission Plan!



A closer look: the new FreeFlyer “Execute Only” mode

Among the many new features available in FreeFlyer 6.11,  users now have the option to use FreeFlyer in one of three modes:

  • Full – The standard mode allowing users full access to create and edit new or existing FreeFlyer Mission Plans.
  • Execute Only – A new locked-down mode allowing only the execution of existing FreeFlyer Mission Plans. Users will not have access to the FreeFlyer Integrated Development Environment (IDE).
  • Execute Only with Preferences: A selective mode allowing certain users (or groups of users) to use FreeFlyer in either Full or Execute Only mode based on designated User Group security settings.

These new Execute Only options may be advantageous when FreeFlyer is being run in an operational satellite ground system. As an example, key personnel may have access to read, write, and execute Mission Plan files, while restricting mission operators to using the Execute Only mode for added security control.

The Deep Space Trajectory Explorer

The a.i. solutions Polaris development platform is gaining traction for a variety of different use cases. Recently, a.i. solutions Senior Software Engineer and Polaris creator Sean Phillips worked with Senior Systems Engineer Dr. Diane Davis to tackle one tough problem: designing interplanetary spacecraft trajectories for navigating planet-moon systems.

Starting with a three-body system of Saturn, Titan, and a spacecraft, the goal was to develop a tool that quickly and easily identifies trajectories to satisfy various mission constraints – for example, starting from a Saturn-centered orbit, entering into the vicinity of Titan and achieving a long-term science orbit around the smaller body.  Such scenarios have been studied previously, including by Davis as part of her PhD research at Purdue University.  This Saturn-Titan gravity system is not only extremely complex, but also potentially chaotic from a mission planning perspective – very small deltas in initial position and velocity can have drastic differences in the end orbit state.

While reliable tools like MATLAB were used for previous analyses, interpreting the results and changing parameters on the fly proved tedious and time consuming. To address this challenge, Phillips created a JavaFX-based tool utilizing the Polaris platform to select and visualize an entire catalog of orbital cross-sections that fit the desired criteria.

According to Phillips, now that the tool is working based off a simplified 3-body gravitational model, the next step is to use FreeFlyer to implement a two-level corrector and achieve similar trajectories in a full force model.

To find out how you can put the Polaris platform to use for your  custom application, contact  To view more screenshots of DSTE, click here!


Evaluate FreeFlyer today!

Interested in trying out FreeFlyer to explore all of its powerful capabilities? Contact us at for a free 30-day license and see for yourself why it’s the most powerful software available today for space mission design, analysis, and operational use.


“Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson