Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Has Orekit already been used?

Yes, it has been used in successful operational missions.

The first operational use of Orekit was for the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) mission to the International Space station (ISS). Orekit was used operationally during the real-time monitoring of the rendezvous phase up to the docking. It continuously recomputed the relative geometry of the two spacecraft using different sensors output to check its consistency.

Orekit has been selected by CNES for its next-generation flight dynamics systems (project Sirius) in early 2011, including operational systems, study systems and mission analysis systems.

Orekit is used at Eumetsat for very long term mission analysis (up to the full lifetime of a satellite) for both LEO and GEO missions.

Orekit is used underneath the Rugged sensor-to-terrain mapping library in the Sentinel-2 Image Processing Facility to process terabytes of data each day.

As Orekit is open-source, we cannot know about all uses as people are not required to notify us of anything.

Is Orekit validated?

Some parts are strongly validated, others are validated to a lesser extent.

The frames package is one of the best validated ones. The overall mechanism (transforms, navigation between frames, kinematics …) has really been challenged a lot, both in theoretical tests and during real life operations. This part was extensively used for Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) rendezvous with International Space Station (ISS). It was part of an operational ground program performing real-time monitoring of the rendezvous and docking phase. This part has been checked to below millimeter-level precision for relative configuration. The reference frames part (ITRF and the like) has been validated using public data down to meter-level precision for version 3.1, and to centimeter-level precision for the version 4.0.

A new round of validation was done after Orekit 3.1 was published. Two defects were identified and fixed: the J2000 frame was misaligned with real J2000 by a constant rotation bias of about 18 milliarcsceonds (it was really GCRF, not J2000) and the ITRF2000B implementation was wrong by a time-dependent rotation leading to about 0.6 meters error for orbits with a semi-minor axis of about 10000km. These errors have been fixed as of version 4.0. Our tests show the new frames are compliant with reference cases to about 10mm for LEO and 60mm for GEO.

The TLE package is also quite well validated; it has been checked against some reference data published by Vallado along with his revision of the original spacetrack report, where he fixed some errors in the original Fortran implementation from NORAD.

The atmosphere models have also been validated the same way, using published data.

The time package has been validated by its unit tests only, but since the behavior is simpler it can be checked by hand. The unit tests include a lot of borderline cases (for example behavior during the introduction of a leap second).

The Sun and Moon classes for version 3.1 were very low precision and defined in a pseudo-inertial frame with loose definition. They could be compared only with very specific software. Their accuracy was probably limited to about 10 arcseconds. They have been replaced by accurate reference models in the version 4.0. The new models have been validated against reference NASA programs.

Numerical propagation has been validated by CNES independently of the Orekit team against some very high accuracy propagators (Zoom). They told us the results were good (down to centimeter level for simple force models), but we don't have a thorough breakdown of errors for various orbits and force models.

Accurate force models including tides have been validated by Naval Research Laboratory against their reference OCEAN program in 2014. A paper has been published at the 2014 AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialist Conference in San Diego. A new round of validation is expected to be realized once accurate GNSS modeling is completed (this feature is under development as of end 2017).

Validation is a continuous task for us, we are always working on improving it. We would be happy to also have other teams perform independent validation runs. We have already received some feedback and new test cases after the first version was published.

Is Orekit thread-safe?

Versions up to 5.X were not thread-safe. Note that simply wrapping Orekit calls in synchronized blocks was not a solution as it completely broke all data caching features, so performances were reduced by a large factor.

As thread-safety was an important need for many people, this problem has been addressed and starting with version 6.0 many Orekit classes are thread-safe. Note however that some parts for which sequential access is natural are not thread-safe. Since version 9.0, it is even possible to use different threads for multi-satellite propagation (and orbit determination) with inter-thread scheduling for parallel propagation (but each propagation is performed in a dedicated thread).


What are Orekit dependencies?

Up to version 4.0, Orekit depended on features of Apache Commons Math which were not released as of mid 2008, so the dependency was set to 2.0-SNAPSHOT development version. This development version was available from Apache subversion repository. Starting with version 4.1, and up to 7.2, Orekit depends only on officially released versions of Apache Commons Math. Starting with version 8.0, Orekit has switched from Apache Commons Math to Hipparchus

version     |                             dependency
Orekit 4.1 Apache Commons Math 2.0
Orekit 5.0 Apache Commons Math 2.1
Orekit 5.0.3 Apache Commons Math 2.2
Orekit 6.0 Apache Commons Math 3.2
Orekit 6.1 Apache Commons Math 3.2
Orekit 7.0 Apache Commons Math 3.4.1
Orekit 7.1 Apache Commons Math 3.6
Orekit 7.2 Apache Commons Math 3.6.1
Orekit 7.2.1 Apache Commons Math 3.6.1
Orekit 8.0 Hipparchus 1.0
Orekit 8.0.1 Hipparchus 1.0
Orekit 9.0 Hipparchus 1.1
Orekit 9.0.1 Hipparchus 1.1
Orekit 9.1 Hipparchus 1.2
Orekit 9.2 Hipparchus 1.3
Orekit 9.3 Hipparchus 1.4
Orekit 9.3.1 Hipparchus 1.4
Orekit 10.0 Hipparchus 1.5
Orekit 10.1 Hipparchus 1.6
Orekit 10.2 Hipparchus 1.7
Orekit 10.3 Hipparchus 1.8
Orekit 10.3.1 Hipparchus 1.8
Orekit 11.0 Hipparchus 2.0
Orekit 11.0.1 Hipparchus 2.0
Orekit 11.0.2 Hipparchus 2.0
Orekit 11.1 Hipparchus 2.0
Orekit 11.1.1 Hipparchus 2.0
Orekit 11.1.2 Hipparchus 2.1
Orekit 11.2 Hipparchus 2.1
Orekit 11.2.1 Hipparchus 2.1
Orekit 11.3 Hipparchus 2.3
Orekit 11.3.1 Hipparchus 2.3
Orekit 11.3.2 Hipparchus 2.3
Orekit 11.3.3 Hipparchus 2.3
Orekit 12.0 Hipparchus 3.0
Orekit 12.0.1 Hipparchus 3.0
Orekit 12.0.2 Hipparchus 3.0

Maven failed to compile Orekit and complained about a missing artifact.

The released versions of Orekit always depend only on released Hipparchus versions, but development Orekit versions may depend on unreleased Hipparchus versions. Maven knows how to download the pre-built binary for released Hipparchus versions but it cannot download pre-built binaries for unreleased Hipparchus versions as none are publicly available. In this case the maven command will end with an error message like:

[ERROR] Failed to execute goal on project orekit: Could not resolve dependencies for project org.orekit:orekit:jar:8.0-SNAPSHOT: Could not find artifact org.hipparchus:hipparchus-core:jar:1.0-SNAPSHOT

In this case, you should build the missing Hipparchus artifact and install it in your local maven repository beforehand. This is done by cloning the Hipparchus source from Hipparchus git repository at GitHub in some temporary folder and install it with maven. This is done by running the commands below (using Linux command syntax):

git clone
cd hipparchus
mvn install

Once the Hipparchus development version has been installed locally using the previous commands, you can delete the cloned folder if you want. You can then attempt again the mvn command at Orekit level, this time it should succeed as the necessary artifact is now locally available.

The file you provide is not up to date. Can you update it?

There is no regular update for this file. Data are provided only as an example, to allow quick start for new users. For long-term use, data handling remains their own responsibility. The configuration page points out the data sources that can be taken into account by Orekit, so you can go visit that link to look for what you need.

Some difficulties may yet occur for very recent data. Indeed, the IERS once again changed its file formats and stopped publishing the B Bulletins (see Earth Orientation Data page). As an example, the last IAU 2000 B Bulletin published is number 263. IERS also stopped publishing data for the IERS convention 2003, they have switched to IERS conventions 2010. The annual data (EOP 05 C08 file) are still published. We advise then that you update these files regularly as the IERS publish them.

Concerning UTC leap seconds, as of mid 2017, the last one was introduced at the end of December 2016.

Runtime errors

I get an error “no IERS UTC-TAI history data loaded” (or something similar in another language). What does it mean?

This error is probably the most frequent one, or at least it's the first one new users encounter.

Orekit needs some external data to be loaded in order to run. This includes UTC-TAI history for leap seconds handling, Earth Orientation Parameters for transforms to and from Earth fixed frames, or planetary ephemerides for Sun direction, for example.

The error message “no IERS UTC-TAI history data loaded” means the UTC-TAI history file which is used for leap seconds management was not found. As leap seconds are used each time a UTC date is used, this message is often seen very early and is the first one unsuspecting users experience. It often means the user forgot to configure Orekit to load data. Orekit supports by default either the IERS UTC-TAI.history file or the USNO tai-utc.dat file. If either file is found in the Orekit configuration, it will be automatically loaded and the message should not appear.

Configuring data loading is explained in the configuration page. For a start, the simplest configuration is to download the file from the forge, to unzip it anywhere you want, rename the orekit-data-master folder that will be created into orekit-data and add the following lines at the start of your program:

File orekitData = new File("/path/to/the/folder/orekit-data");
DataProvidersManager manager = DataContext.getDefault().getDataProvidersManager();
manager.addProvider(new DirectoryCrawler(orekitData));

Using a folder allows one to change the data in it after the initial download, e.g., adding new EOP files as they are published by IERS. Updating the content of the orekit-data remains the responsibility of the user.