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About poliastro

Overview

poliastro is an open source collection of Python subroutines for solving problems in Astrodynamics and Orbital Mechanics.

poliastro combines cutting edge technologies like Python JIT compiling (using numba) with young, well developed astronomy packages (like astropy and jplephem) to provide a user friendly API for solving Astrodynamics problems. It is therefore a experiment to mix the best Python open source practices with my love for Orbital Mechanics.

Since I have only solved easy academic problems I cannot assess the suitability of the library for professional environments, though I am aware that at least a company that uses it.

History

I started poliastro as a wrapper of some MATLAB and Fortran algorithms that I needed for a University project: having good performance was a must, so pure Python was not an option. As a three language project, it was only known to work in my computer, and I had to fight against oct2py and f2py for long hours.

Later on, I enhanced poliastro plotting capabilities to serve me in further University tasks. I removed the MATLAB (Octave) code and kept only the Fortran algorithms. Finally, when numba was mature enough, I implemented everything in pure Python and poliastro 0.3 was born.

Related software

These are some projects which share similarities with poliastro or which served as inspiration:

  • astropy: According to its website, "The Astropy Project is a community effort to develop a single core package for Astronomy in Python and foster interoperability between Python astronomy packages". Not only it provides important core features for poliastro like time and physical units handling, but also sets a high bar for code quality and documentation standards. A truly inspiring project.
  • Skyfield: Another Astronomy Python package focused on computing observations of planetary bodies and Earth satellites written by Brandon Rhodes. It is the successor of pyephem, also written by him, but skyfield is a pure Python package and provides a much cleaner API.
  • Plyades: A pioneering astrodynamics library written in Python by Helgee Eichhorn. Its clean and user friendly API inspired me to completely refactor poliastro 0.2 so it could be much easier to use. It has been stalled for a while, but at the moment of writing these lines its author is pushing new commits.
  • orbital: Yet another orbital mechanics Python library written by Frazer McLean. It is very similar to poliastro (orbital plotting module was inspired in mine) but its internal structure is way smarter. It is more focused in plotting and it even provides 3D plots and animations.
  • orekit-python-wrapper: According to its website, "The Orekit python wrapper enables to use Orekit within a normal python environment", using JCC. Orekit is a well-stablished, mature open source library for Astrodynamics written in Java strongly supported by several space agencies. The Python wrapper is developed by the Swedish Space Corporation.
  • beyond: A young flight dynamics library written in Python with a focus on developing "a simple API for space observations". Some parts overlap with poliastro, but it also introduces many interesting features, and the examples look promising. Worth checking!
  • SpiceyPy: This Python library wraps the SPICE Toolkit, a huge software collection developed by NASA which offers advanced astrodynamics functionality. Among all the wrappers available on the Internet, at the time of writing this is the most advanced and well-maintained one, although there are others.

Future ideas

These are some things that I would love to implement in poliastro to expand its capabilities:

  • 3D plotting of orbits
  • Continuous thrust maneuvers
  • Tisserand graphs
  • Porkchop plots

Note of the original author

I am Juan Luis Cano Rodríguez (two names and two surnames, it's the Spanish way!), an Aerospace Engineer with a passion for Astrodynamics and the Open Source world. Before poliastro started to be a truly community project, I started it when I was an Erasmus student at Politecnico di Milano, an important technical university in Italy which deeply influenced my life and ambitions and gave name to the library itself. It is and always will be my tiny tribute to a country that will always be in my heart and to people that never ceased to inspire me. Grazie mille!