Affiliation with Rust London Community

The BCS Open Source Specialist Group (OSSG) is excited to affiliate with the Rust London Community and our new affiliation and support page.

The OSSG is a body of IT professionals consisting of more than 1,500 open source specialists from industry and academia. The Rust programming language is a community project with a vibrant open source ecosystem that brings together the performance of C with the memory safety of Java. 

With the affiliation to the Rust London community, the OSSG will support the community by co-organizing events, announcing events for the Rust community in its calendar, providing letters of endorsement, and giving access to facilities and funding on demand. The first jointly organized event will be revolving around “Embedded Rust” in August.

Statement from the Rust London Community

The Rust London Community is pleased to be affiliated with the BCS Open Source Specialist Group. The Rust programming language has the ethos of empowering through collaboration in its DNA. We here at Rust London are excited to open up our community and connect with the OSSG.

The Rust ecosystem keeps growing and maturing every day. The positive moves forward are reflected in the 2020 Stack Overflow Survey. Rust was voted the most loved programming language for the 5th year in a row, and this is also reflected in the growth of the programming language’s adoption commercially. Several companies and community projects are starting to use Rust more extensively, from web development to space satellites, embedded devices, and game engines. 

Rust London is a place where these companies and individuals can showcase what they are currently doing, what they aspire to do with the language, and how they will positively contribute to the Rust ecosystem. We have grown the community to over 2100 members on, and have more than 700 followers on Twitter. 

The OSSG and the Rust London Community are both excited about what our friendship and connection will bring.

Space: the final frontier for Open-source technology

Space for the few

Since the 1950s, the exploration of space has been dominated by a relatively small number of well-funded state space agencies, of which NASA is perhaps the most celebrated.

This has resulted in such spectacular achievements as the first moon walk, the numerous Shuttle missions, the exploration of Mars and the outer planets. However, the financial, human and technical risks of such projects has been exceedingly high.

During this early phase of Space exploration, national space agencies and their contractors have invested billions of dollars in developing proprietary technologies, with inevitable concerns about the safeguarding of intellectual property.

Space for the many

However, the Space sector is set to embrace a new model, based around the use of open-source technologies and data. This new spirit of collaboration has been spurred by a demand for more nations to gain access to the booming Space sector, the success of the collaborative International Space Station and the growth of relatively low cost technologies. And then of course, there has been the growing influence of the open-source movement within business, government and academia.

An evolving view is that open-source can provide a way to bring together developers, entrepreneurs, academic researchers and national agencies. Through this process, a global community has evolved, with the aim of reducing costs, sharing expertise and widening access to Space.

Open-source to the rescue

We can already see how this new more open approach to Space exploration has started to bear fruit.

For example, did you know that the NASA ‘Ingenuity’ helicopter which recently flew on the surface of Mars was built using the Linux operating system and off the shelf hardware components?

Diagram of NASA 'Ingenuity' helicoptor

Looking further towards the future, NASA have announced that their planned VIPER Lunar Rover will employ open-source software to navigate the lunar surface.

These two examples show that open-source solutions are taking on a critical role in the burgeoning new Space economy. This bold new age of ‘open space’ has created active roles for entrepreneurs, citizen scientists, universities, corporations and national agencies within this evolving business ecosystem.

Open-source in action

At this point, let’s take a quick tour of the numerous roles that the open-source software, hardware and data have come to play in the collaborative exploration of space. These contributions range in scope from small Javascript frameworks through to running vast supercomputers.

Software solutions

It should come as no surprise that NASA has emerged as major champion a champion of open-source software.  A wealth of projects are publicly accessible and NASA has even published a helpful guide to its code repository.

The European space Agency (ESA) is another active sponsor of open-source software for the Space industry. The purpose of the European Space Software Repository (ESSR) is described as follows:

ESA informational web portal was created to promote reuse of Software – including Open Source Software (OSS) – and to provide all parties involved in the European Space software development (in particular SMEs) with access to results of previous investments.

Note the stated importance of providing SMEs with access to existing open-source repositories, with the clear benefits of lower costs, working code and greater participation by smaller companies.

In addition to the ESSR repository, ESA also maintains a register of open source software, specifically for developing downstream space applications such as GNSS and Satellite Communications.

Frameworks and Libraries

A wide range of open-source programming language libraries and frameworks is available to developers . Here are just a few examples :

  • the Javascript library, spacekit.js, is an open-source JavaScript library for creating interactive 3D space visualizations
  • the Python Satellite Data Analysis Toolkit (pysat) is a package which provides a simple and flexible interface for downloading, loading, cleaning, managing, processing, and analyzing scientific measurements
  • SpacePy provides basic data analysis, modelling and visualization for the space sciences
  • Mars Simulation Project builds computer models that characterize important aspects of establishing human settlements on Mars.


There is a vast amount of open-access data which relates to Astronomy and Space exploration:

  • NASA maintains an Open Data Catalogue of all data received from its spacecraft projects.
  • Asterank provides data about 600,000 Asteroids, accessible via their API
  • the “unofficial” REST API for Space X provides access to a wide range of data about Space-X missions
  • IBM’s Space Situational Awareness project seeks to use data and Machine Learning to minimise the risk of objects colliding in the increasing crowded Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) zone.


Open source hardware designs have the potential to lower costs and widen access to cutting-edge technology. For example, the EU-funded De-RISC project aims to develop a RISC-V multicore platform and hypervisor for Space and Aeronautical applications.

Computing in Space

These days, Linux runs on most of the world’s supercomputers. But a recent NASA project led to the deployment of significant computing power in space. The Spaceborne project saw the deployment in 2017 of a HP Spaceborne computer to the International Space Station. It was build using COTS hardware and ran the Linux operating system.

The Rise of the Citizen Cosmonaut

So you have decided that you would like to get more involved in the Space sector but you don’t have billions of dollars to spend on your next project?

No worries. Cubesats are small satellites that are launched into low-earth (LEO) orbit. Their relatively affordability has made them made them a firm favourite with both students and entrepreneurs alike. Indeed, a number of early projects such as CubeSat started life as crowd-funding initiatives on Kickstarter

Cubesat technology is now big business, with conferences, workshops, formal standards, and a thriving marketplace for Cubesat technology.

If your annual Space budget is limited to $100 or less, there are still opportunities to get involved at a more modest level.

Check out initiatives such as OpenLuna or the hugely ambitious Humanity for Space.

If you are fascinated by rocketry but have not yet received an invitation to dine with Elon Musk, then Copenhagen Suborbitals might be more in your league. It claims to be the world’s only manned amateur space programme, building and testing their own rockets.

Whatever level of involvement you are seeking, all open source projects are actively looking for volunteers to provide expertise or donate cash, or else you might choose to back a Kickstarter project.


We are just at the start of a revolution in Space exploration. Open-source hardware, software and data will help to lower the barriers to entry and make Space more accessible to a broad range of players. Expect new projects to embrace emerging technologies such as AI, Robotics and Blockchain applications.

Who knows, perhaps the Starship Enterprise of 100 years hence may be a collaborative venture between all nations of planet Earth and built using exclusively open-source technologies.

To learn more about Open Source in Space, join our free evening meeting on Thursday 20 May. Details here.

All images Copyright (C) NASA

Grant-funded Competition for Development of the ‘Digital Security by Design’ Software Ecosystem

Robin Kennedy, Knowledge Transfer Manager – Cyber Security, KTN

Innovate UK currently have a grant-funding competition open for one more week which may be of particular interest to the open-source community. It’s part of the Digital Security by Design (DSbD) challenge which is investing in projects that help the UK digital computing infrastructure to become more secure.

Development of the ‘Digital Security by Design’ Software Ecosystem

An opportunity for SME stakeholders from across the software development spectrum to explore and investigate requirements, dependencies, and a range of potential complexities associated with the adoption of the Digital Security by Design technologies.

Full competition details are here – the Dates tab includes a link to the recording of the briefing event from late November.

The competition headlines are

  • Only open to applications from UK registered SMEs
  • Fast-Start Short-Term Projects – six months of maximum project length
  • Total Eligible Costs per project : £40,000 – £80,000
  • Closing Date NEXT WEEK – Wednesday 13th January 11:00am
  • Total funding available £1.5 million – will be paid de minimus (i.e. 100% funded)

More background on the Digital Security by Design (DSbD) challenge is here and on Twitter @DSbDTech

FPGA vendor Lattice acknowledges value of open source community

Many open-source projects target existing, commercial hardware without official support from the hardware vendor. Some of the most famous examples include Linux and the GCC compiler; which all started as third party projects.

These days both of these projects see significant support from large hardware companies and are used as the official tooling for many widely sold products. Both now see significant first-party contributions from hardware vendors.

Over the last three years, I have been part of the community developing open source tooling for field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). These are programmable logic chips with great potential for “post Moore’s law” reconfigurable computing with many promising applications from consumer devices to datacentres.

In general, FPGA companies have not published the low-level details of the devices – unlike CPUs, where the instruction set is almost always public. The expectation is that everyone uses the closed-source vendor-specific toolchain provided.

As a result, to develop a complete open-source flow from design to device programming for most FPGAs, the low-level “bitstream” details must be documented by creating a large number of designs using the vendor-provided tools and examining the output. Claire Wolf did this for the Lattice iCE40 FPGAs five years ago in Project Icestorm. Subsequently, I created open-source documentation for their larger ECP5 FPGAs.

In both cases, combined with the low cost and simplicity of these Lattice parts, these projects have led to popular open-source flows for both devices. From this has sprung a number of open source development boards such as the myStorm BlackIce, icebreaker and ULX3S.

Vendors are now acknowledging the importance of open source

Whilst downloading a newly released Lattice SDK, I found there was a new clause in the license agreement prohibiting this bitstream documentation. Fortunately, this SDK doesn’t directly affect any of the currently supported devices, but it would have become problematic if all their tools sport this license in the future:

e. Licensee shall not distribute, copy, transfer, lend, incorporate, modify, use or sublicense the Software or any Modules for any purpose except as expressly provided herein or as otherwise permitted under relevant law, or in advance by Lattice in writing. In particular, no right is granted hereunder … or (3) for reverse engineering a bit stream format or other signaling protocol of any Lattice Semiconductor Corporation programmable logic device.

Thanks to lobbying from the community, it is great to see that Lattice has shown commitment to open source by promptly removing the clause after being contacted about it, going as far as to publish a message of appreciation for the open-source community on Twitter:

Thanks for pointing out a new bitstream usage restriction in the Lattice Propel license. It is not our intent to hinder open source tools. See re an updated license. We are excited with the open source community’s FPGA achievements and their potential.

This is a risk that Lattice has taken, but it is one that resonates well with the open-source toolchain developers and will hopefully yield good results for them in the future. It also shows the power of a strong open source community to achieve good results from companies and the growing awareness for the open source.

I hope that as time progresses we see more support for open source tools from FPGA vendors, perhaps even reaching a similar point to established open -source software tooling.

David Shah is a self-employed developer working on nextpnr, the open source FPGA place-and-route tool. His previous work also includes Project Trellis, open source bitstream documentation for the Lattice ECP5 FPGAs.

COVID19 contact tracing apps: a call for open source

A comment by Julian Kunkel, Simon Worthington, Jeremy Bennett, Andy Bennett

Governments worldwide are developing smartphone apps that track the location and movement profile of citizens in order to quickly identify contact persons of COVID-19 infections. According to The Financial Times, if even 40% of smartphone users install such an application, the infection levels would be significantly reduced in the UK. Therefore, the widespread usage of such an application is an important instrument in the current crisis.

How could such a smartphone app work? In a nutshell, a device can scan other nearby devices and exchange device IDs, for example, using Bluetooth. This information then needs to be stored with a timestamp. If the owner of a device contracts the virus, s/he could indicate this fact in the app allowing to associate the own device ID with the information that s/he may have infected others. This data then needs to be recorded on a server to allow the app of other users to query the register and then compare any contact information with the register of COVID-19 victims.


Case study: The Importance of Open Source for Research in High-Performance Computing

This post is part of the OSSG series “the role of open source in the UK”, where we collect and publish statements from companies and individuals in the UK regarding their experience with Open Source Software. We welcome any submission to this series. If you are interested, please send an email to Dr Julian Kunkel.

by Dr Julian Kunkel, Lecturer, Department of Computer Science, University of Reading

Open source is vital in providing teaching, in conducting research in computer science, and in enabling reproducible large-scale experiments in computational science that support the society. In this post, Julian describes his experience with Open Source in his career.

The Relevance of Open Source: A Personal Statement

Open-source software is for me the key enabler for productive work and for providing training and research environments for various reasons. Firstly, in my own work environment, I rely upon Ubuntu as the operating system to give me the freedom to conduct research and programming experiments easily on my laptop that can later be scaled up to data-center wide experiments. 

Having full control over the system and easy means to repair a broken system, I haven’t lost any data in my 20-year usage of Linux albeit my work often requires to perform rigorous stress-testing of hardware components. I have high confidence and trust in the software stack due to the openness of the software stack. There are no hidden data transmission of private data and proper security schemes in place that protect my data and research. Another benefit I acknowledge is that key APIs are robust and software I rely on that has started to be developed 20 years ago can still be used.


We need to change the way we advocate for Open

For the last year or so, Open Source educational and advocacy work by our think tank, OpenForum Europe, has been framed by a key question: “Why did Open Source Software development end up as an unintended casualty in the original proposal of the EU’s Copyright Directive?”

In a time when the digital transformation is at the heart of many policy discussions in Brussels, and when Open Source-dependent technology such as IoT, Cloud, blockchain and supercomputers are hot topics, no one involved in drafting the legislation thought of software development. In short, the platforms and repositories used by developers to drive the digital transformation through the collaborative development of code were forgotten.

Consequently, as the platforms fell into the scope of the Copyright Directive’s filtering obligations, they ran the risk of being regulated out of practical existence in the EU, or at least their users would experience a very negative cooling effect on innovation.

Astor speaking at our talks on Open Source in Government.

In response to this regulatory risk, OpenForum Europe and the Free Software Foundation Europe started the campaign. In the end we were successful in excluding software platforms from the final law. That said (and there is a lot to say about the process of getting there and the many other consequences of the Copyright Directive as a whole) our main takeaway was the grim realisation that Open Source software was overlooked, despite software being largely regulated by copyright law.

On the one hand, this says something about knowledge gaps that exist among policy makers. But on the other hand, it also says something about the state of Open Source advocacy in Europe. Advocacy has not followed the times and is way behind reflecting the reality of the role and position of Open Source in everything digital.

Open Source advocacy is still reactive. Communities of activists and advocates should (perhaps must) build the capacity to be proactive.

The need for a maturing of Open Source representation in politics goes beyond simply not being overlooked when drafting digitally relevant legislation. In our view, with Open Source having gone mainstream, there are new risks and opportunities arising. That means that the political conversation around Open Source has to go beyond what it has focused on in the past, to how to become acknowledged as being of strategic importance for Europe’s digital future.

To be part of that conversation, the Open Source ecosystem needs to build the capacity to become trusted partners of governments and public authorities, in order to capture the big opportunities.

We believe that to make that happen, to not just fend off regulatory risk, but also capture the opportunities that are out there, all stakeholders in the ecosystem need to step up. From the developers, Open Source vendors to the large IT and industrial companies that develop and/or depend on Open Source’s innovative benefits, there needs to be more effort, energy and resources spent on political representation and educational efforts.

We have to at least take on the collective responsibility to make sure that Open Source Software never becomes an unintended casualty again. For those stakeholders that look further than defensive efforts, we need to be part of the conversations around the digitization of all sectors of our society. It is also our responsibility to do our part in ensuring that the much talked about Digital Sovereignty describes a digital reality that is neither locked-in to a small group of monopolistic vendors or for that matter, a chauvinist approach of a Europe closed for global collaboration.

Europe’s digital future should be based on Open.