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April 2, 2024

Ansys STK Gets Inducted Into the Space Hall of Fame

Great films have the Oscars, great books have the Pulitzers, great music has the Grammies. Wherever you find great achievements, you can find distinguished awards to honor them — even in outer space. The Space Foundation’s Space Technology Hall of Fame® was established in 1988 to recognize “life-changing technologies emerging from global space programs,” and each year it expands its honor roll with a select few additions.

You might imagine where this is going. Yes, the Space Foundation recently announced that Ansys Systems Tool Kit (STK) will be inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame at the 2024 Space Symposium, from April 8-11. We are honored and thrilled — dare we say, over the Moon? — that STK will now join a distinguished list of inductees that includes CubeSats, GPS, TEMPUR® foam, digital fly-by-wire, and more. So how did STK earn such distinction? Let’s start at the beginning.


Ansys Systems Tool Kit (STK) provides an environment for analyzing and visualizing complex systems in the context of your mission.

Tracking Progress From the Living Room to Outer Space

When STK was first conceived by the living-room startup company AGI in 1989, the commercialization of space was a distant concept. One significant reason that the space economy remained closed was a lack of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions for operating assets in space. STK was designed to fill this void — first as Satellite Tool Kit, with functionality primarily focused on satellite overflight analysis, and later as Systems Tool Kit, a multidomain digital mission engineering environment. This evolution of STK has carefully tracked the development of the space economy, so that STK has always offered COTS solutions for some of the biggest and most timely challenges in the space industry.

In this way, STK has helped pioneer the commercial space market for over 30 years, contributing to the growth of — and diversification of — the space economy and its workforce. But, STK’s impact is not limited to economic growth. It has been essential to scientific space missions and has contributed to the defense of the U.S. and its allies. And, as an enabling technology for firms seeking to use space as a platform for global access to communications and the internet, STK has helped to democratize the space domain.

How has a modest 10 million lines of software code achieved all this? By being open, accessible, and engaged. Open in the sense that STK can ingest and export data in many formats, and offers APIs that enable other developers to automate and access its functionality. Accessible, because over $7 billion of STK licenses have been donated to educational and public institutions, empowering educators and inspiring two generations of students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. Engaged, because — through AGI’s public advocacy and membership in esteemed industry organizations — STK has nurtured other startup companies and helped arouse curiosity and wonder about the future of human adventure in space. Let’s take a closer look at these qualities. 

STK 2024 R1

Ansys STK’s chains and constellation objects can be used to construct and analyze complex data relay and multi-object connectivity paths.

Accelerating the Growth of Space Exploration

The COTS principle underlying STK is the most essential part of its story as a landmark space technology. In the early days of the space industry, every project and program team wrote (and rewrote) custom computer code to plan the complex orbital trajectories required for space flight. A new commercial organization had few options in this regard: usually, they had to build their own code or apply to use government tools. As a COTS solution to these problems, STK removes many of the mundane tasks of space mission development, enabling mission designers and operators to focus on the unique challenges of their missions. By dramatically reducing software reinvention, STK helped accelerate the growth of the space industry by moving the starting line closer to the finish for thousands of organizations.

But STK has taken the COTS principle even further with its application programming interfaces (APIs) for the software. From automation to assembling entire new apps that leverage its technology, STK has long offered (and supported) extensive interoperability with software tools and data of many origins. Through these APIs, STK isn’t limited to the problems it has been developed to solve — it provides solutions to problems that its creators never even considered. Once again, this has the effect of eliminating the need to reinvent established technology so that organizations can focus their experts’ efforts on innovation.

The impact of STK on the space economy is evident everywhere. As much as it has aided the rise of small space enterprises, STK has also been adopted by the biggest, longest-established organizations in the industry. Programs such as the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, New Horizons, DART, the James Webb Space Telescope, the Artemis program, and more have relied on STK for trajectory design and other analyses. And STK is a global technology, used by over 3,000 private companies and government organizations from over 60 countries around the world.

STK’s technology has also fostered growth by empowering a generation of startup firms. For some of these companies, STK technology is a foundational enabler — helping to promote and validate business plans and secure funding.

Just as STK has contributed to economic growth in the space domain, it has helped to expand the workforce that drives it, through education and opportunity. Universities have benefited from STK’s educational licensing programs, which have introduced students to opportunities in space-oriented careers and equipped them with skills that are coveted by organizations hungry to expand their operations. And STK’s free edition puts much of its core technology into the hands of nearly anyone willing to download and install it.

Through technical organizations such as the Astrogator’s Guild and the Center for Space Standards and Innovation (CSSI), STK has encouraged collaboration across the industry and promoted its growth. The general public has experienced the ways that STK’s visualization capabilities bring space missions and phenomena to life through collaborative outreach such as “NORAD Tracks Santa” and the Smithsonian Institution’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. And many children have taken their first steps toward a career in the space industry through programs that feature STK, such as StellarXplorers, Galaxy Explorers, and Project Lead the Way.

It's not an exaggeration to say that STK has changed the world. It helped initiate the commercialization of space and popularized many careers that are today fundamental to the space economy. It has supported the largest programs and the smallest startups. It has been used to explore space, understand Earth, defend our nation, and make information and communications available the world over. All of this has happened, and continues to happen, because STK broke through the traditional barriers to space with four simple words: commercial, off the shelf.

Learn more about STK.

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