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NASA urged to study up on open-source code requirements • The Register

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Houston, we’ve had a problem: our rocket scientists don’t entirely understand the nuances of software licensing.

NASA, of course, is more than just rocket scientists. It’s home to software engineers and other technical types, as well as those inclined to maintenance, management, and administration, and other less storied roles.

But among those at the US space agency who deal with software – writing it, requisitioning it, glaring at it – there’s less understanding of open-source software requirements than there should be.

Or so say John Haiducek, Thom Edwards, Wade Duvall, Sarah Cannon, Kai Germaschewski, and Jason Kooi – a medley of boffins from the US Naval Research Laboratory, Technical University of Denmark, University of New Hampshire, and others.

Haiducek et al. recently completed a short paper titled, “Recommendations to clarify NASA open source requirements,” that was released via ArXiv. Therein the researchers observe that while NASA has a policy designed to encourage open source software development, its personnel continue to be confused about the specific meaning of terms like “open source software,” “free software,” and “permissive license.”

“Some NASA documents and policies have acknowledged the OSI and FSF definitions as widely accepted, but NASA does not always use and apply these definitions consistently,” the paper explains.

“Moreover, many scientists mistakenly understand the term ‘open source’ to mean simply that source code is available to the public. As a result, some software products developed by scientists are advertised as ‘open source’ even though their licenses violate one or more of the ten criteria of the OSI definition.”

Such misunderstandings in the past have kept some NASA software from being included in Linux distributions. And, the authors argue, they can trip up NASA solicitations. Proposal teams may interpret OSS requirements differently than NASA, thereby limiting the scope of their work, or expanding it beyond what NASA can accept.

“Establishing common ground as to the meaning of terms related to OSS, and increasing clarity of communications around software licensing, would benefit NASA and NASA-funded scientists,” the authors argue.

Bruce isn’t impressed

Bruce Perens, creator of the Open Source Definition, board partner at OSS Capital LLC Venture Capital, and CEO of an undisclosed startup, told The Register in a phone interview that he’s familiar with NASA scientists through his work at the Open Research Institute, which aims to foster collaboration around technologies otherwise under national export controls.

He said he’s really impressed by the degree to which NASA boffins have embraced open source software, but added there’s a gap in the way developers are trained.

“As involvement in open source software expands, we reach a problem, which is you can take a four-year course in computer and never have a class in intellectual property,” Perens explained.

“This isn’t just a NASA problem. It’s a problem across the entire software industry. Not only do programmers not really recognize what open source is or what the rules are, I’d say most have never read the license.”

Perens said the recommendations proposed in the paper sound reasonable. “It’s essentially saying get your shit together about intellectual property,” he said.

The Register asked NASA for comment. A NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) spokesperson cheerfully said he’d try to find someone to respond. But as this story was filed on a Friday, when the East Coast press office is closed and many of those at JPL in California had a rostered day off, we’re not expecting an immediate reply. ®

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Irish student wins $40,000 at global entrepreneurship competition

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Nick Cotter co-founded Cotter Agritech with his brother Jack. The Limerick-based start-up has been picking up prizes at home and abroad.

University College Cork student Nick Cotter has scooped the top prize at this year’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.

Cotter is the CEO and co-founder of Cotter Agritech, a Limerick-based business that specialises in targeted tech and treatment systems for sheep.

The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards are an annual competition for students around the world who own and operate a business while attending college or university.

The 22-year-old law and business student saw off competition from more than 1,000 applicants in 40 countries following a year-long nomination, application and pitch process.

His prize is $40,000 courtesy of the competition’s organisers, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, to invest in his business.

“It’s much more than I ever thought was possible, becoming global champion,” said Cotter, commenting on his win.

“Each stage of the competition is quite intense, and you hope. It’s an incredible achievement and pure joy for me,” he added, thanking his mentors and the judges.

This is not Cotter’s first time to be recognised for the business he started with his brother Jack.

The pair won the Engineers Ireland Student Innovator of The Year Award in 2019 and best agri-engineering start-up at the 2019 Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena Awards.

More recently, Cotter placed third in this year’s Ideate Ireland business competition, which rewards entrepreneurial skills and new ideas from undergraduate and postgraduate students. He shared his third-place prize of €5,000 with Dr Fiona McGillicuddy and Dr Rachel Byrne of MetHealth.

Earlier in the year, Cotter Agritech participated in the inaugural AgTechUCD Agccelerator Programme, which was dedicated to early-stage agritech and food-tech start-ups. At the end of the 12-week programme, Cotter Agritech was named the winner of the AIB and Yield Lab AgTech Start-up 2022 Award, winning €10,000.

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EU moves to rein in ‘wild west’ of crypto assets with new rules | Cryptocurrencies

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The EU has moved to rein in the “wild west” of crypto assets by agreeing a groundbreaking set of rules for the sector, adding to pressure on the UK and US to introduce their own curbs.

Representatives from the European parliament and EU states inked an agreement late on Thursday that contains measures to guard against market abuse and manipulation, as well as requiring that crypto firms provide details of the environmental impact of their assets.

“Today, we put order in the wild west of crypto assets and set clear rules for a harmonised market,” said Stefan Berger, the German MEP who led negotiations on behalf of the parliament.

Referring to the recent slump in cryptocurrency prices – the total value of the market has fallen from $3tn (£2.5tn) last year to less than $900bn – Berger added: “The recent fall in the value of digital currencies shows us how highly risky and speculative they are and that it is fundamental to act.”

The markets in crypto assets (MiCA) law is expected to come into force at about the end of 2023. Globally, crypto assets are largely unregulated, with national operators in the EU required only to show controls for combating money laundering.

Cryptocurrency is the term for a group of digital assets that share the same underlying structure as bitcoin: a publicly available “blockchain” that records ownership without having any central authority in control.

The sector’s supporters have said it represents a good investment because, for instance, it carries low fees and, unlike conventional currencies, is not tied to governments. Nevertheless, its detractors say a lack of regulatory oversight or implicit government support, because of crypto and bitcoin’s independent origins, make it susceptible to scams and wild fluctuations in price.

MiCA will be the first comprehensive regime for crypto assets in the world and will contain strong measures to guard against market abuse and manipulation, Ernest Urtasun, a Green party MEP, said.

The new law gives issuers of crypto assets and providers of related services a “passport” to serve clients across the EU from a single base, while meeting capital and consumer protection rules. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a $40bn market last year, are not covered by MiCA.

The EU negotiations on Thursday also focused on issues such as supervision and energy consumption of crypto assets. “We have agreed that crypto asset providers should in future disclose the energy consumption and environmental impact of assets,” Berger said.

The UK and US, two significant crypto centres, have yet to approve similar rules, although regulators in both countries have warned of the need for stronger safeguards in the sector.

The MiCA law is expected to set a benchmark for other regulatory regimes for crypto globally, although one expert said the all-encompassing nature of the EU regime might not be replicated.

Harry Eddis, the global co-head of fintech at Linklaters, a London-based law firm, said the EU had “nailed its crypto colours to the mast” with the law.

“Other jurisdictions have shown little appetite to date in following their lead in implementing such an all-encompassing regulation, although we can surely expect to see other financial services centres upping their game in regulating the crypto community, albeit in a more piecemeal fashion.”

Q&A

What is a stablecoin?

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A stablecoin, like the name suggests, is a type of cryptocurrency that is supposed to have a stable value, such as US$1 per token. How they achieve that varies: the largest, such as tether and USD Coin, are effectively banks. They hold large reserves in cash, liquid assets, and other investments, and simply use those reserves to maintain a stable price.

Others, known as “algorithmic stablecoins”, attempt to do the same thing but without any reserves. They have been criticised as effectively being backed by Ponzi schemes, since they require continuous inflows of cash to ensure they don’t collapse.

Stablecoins are an important part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem. They provide a safer place for investors to store capital without going through the hassle of cashing out entirely, and allow assets to be denominated in conventional currency, rather than other extremely volatile tokens.

Thank you for your feedback.

In the UK, the financial watchdog is weighing proposals on marketing crypto products to consumers that could lead to significant restrictions on crypto exchanges operating in the country.

In May, the Treasury declared it wants a regime in place for dealing the collapse of a stablecoin, a cryptocurrency that is backed by traditional assets such as short-term debt and therefore could pose a risk to the wider financial system.

Crypto assets came under pressure after the collapse of the TerraUSD stablecoin project in May, with the major US cryptocurrency lending company Celsius Network freezing withdrawals and transfers. However, the sector has also proven susceptible to wider economic factors.

These include stock market declines linked to rising inflation and ensuing increases in interest by central banks. Raising rates – a path taken by the US, UK and Swiss central banks last month – can make risky assets less attractive.

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For instance, certain tech stocks, whose price can be based on expectations of strong future earnings over many decades, can be less appealing than the fixed returns on offer immediately from investments such as bonds, which become more attractive in a higher lending rate environment.

The regulatory breakthrough came as India’s central bank said cryptocurrencies were based on “make believe”. The bank’s latest financial stability report said cryptocurrencies were no more than “sophisticated speculation”.

The bank’s governor, Shaktikanta Das, wrote: “Cryptocurrencies are a clear danger. Anything that derives value based on make believe, without any underlying [value], is just speculation under a sophisticated name.”

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Dundee Satellite Station to host Optical Ground Station • The Register

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Dundee Satellite Station’s home turf at Scotland’s Errol Aerodrome is to host an Optical Ground Station to test and demonstrate satellite quantum secure communications.

The name may sound familiar. Dundee Satellite Station Ltd. is a phoenix rising from the ashes of the University of Dundee Satellite Receiving Station (DSRS), which was axed in 2019 after more than 40 years of operations.

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) cut funding for the facility in 2019 and, despite protestations from the likes of NASA, the lights went out when Dundee University refused to underwrite the annual costs of £338,000. As a reminder, the Principal of the University (paid nearly £300,000 including pension contributions) departed later that year under somewhat of a cloud.

The services provided by DSRS have proven invaluable over the years, with a vast archive of data collected from satellites by its receivers available to the public and industry alike. However, and despite repeated claims from politicians of the importance of space technology to the country’s economy, it appeared to be all over.

Or not. In 2020 former staffer Neil Lonie told The Register that plans were afoot to rescue the tracking antennas and reconstruct the facility at the RAF Errol airfied. The Register took a trip to the site this year, and we were impressed by the achievement of the small team in bringing the service back online.

Neil Lonie and Paul Crawford

Station operations director Neil Lonie and technical director Paul Crawford

The story of how Dundee Satellite Station Ltd. rose from the ashes of the Dundee Satellite Receiving Station is one of ingenuity and tenacity, particularly considering the pandemic. Having made the decision to proceed, the team were able to commence commercial operations in the opening months of 2021 (the first imagery was received by the 3.7m antenna in September 2020). Fiber has since been laid to keep the satellite data flowing.

The decision to host the quantum Optical Ground Station (OGS) at Errol is further testament to the effort that has gone into the resurrection of the facility.

The system will consist of a quantum signal transmitter payload on a satellite and a quantum signal receiver attached to the OGS on the ground. A reflective 70cm telescope will be used to track the Low Earth Orbit satellite with high precision. Quantum secure communications (another weapon in the armory against cyber attacks) usually run along terrestrial fiber links, but are limited by distance. The hope is that the use of satellites will allow quantum communications to be sent securely all over the world.

The project is a joint venture between Dundee Satellite Station Ltd. and researchers at Heriot-Watt University. The Errol site, located on the bank of the River Tay, benefited from excellent sight lines and low light pollution. Having visited, we’ll have to take the researchers word for cloud cover.

There are four antennas erected so far; 3.7-meter and 2.4-meter tracking antennas and a further two 2.8-meter antennas. Upgrades, the refurbishment of a another 2.8m antenna and a pair of geostationary antenna are in the pipeline, and now the OGS telescope. Reception and transmission in VHF, UHF, L-band, S-band, X-band, Ku-band, and the ground station support options are also on tap, and also handy for Scotland’s burgeoning vertical launch industry as well as satellite tracking.

Going forwards, there are plans afoot for an additional site and power backups beyond UPS units. While the site can be mostly remotely managed, the size of the team means round-the-clock coverage is tricky and depends on the needs of customers. “The goal is to have enough staff that we can actually do 24-hour support,” technical director Paul Crawford told us.

All of which require commercial contracts and revenues. The Dundee Satellite Station has been quietly notching up customers during its first year and a half of operations, and the OGS project is a further demonstration of the determination of a team unwilling to be parted from their antennas.

Oh, and just round the corner from site is the winner of the world’s best bacon sandwich (if you’re so inclined).

Satellites and fried food. What’s not to like? ®

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