Reenvisioning ATBD Creation using the Algorithm Publication Tool

IMPACT Unofficial
3 min readAug 9


Last summer, we introduced the Algorithm Publication Tool (APT): an authoring, publishing, and central repository environment for creating Algorithm Theoretical Basis Documents (ATBDs). These documents are needed for communicating the theory behind some of the NASA data products available to users. Since then, the APT team has added several new features and capabilities, making the tool more user-friendly and accessible.

Building on user feedback, the team added a template option for writing an ATBD outside the system. Templates are available for Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and LaTeX. This new capability ensures that users can write their document offline and in a familiar environment using the latest features in collaborative document authoring. When the user has finished the document, the ATBD is uploaded in minutes to the website to be reviewed for publication. All users also have the option of using the APT interface for document development, which allows them to collaborate with colleagues to write, edit, review, and publish an ATBD.

Document creation is a surprisingly complex thing to get right — not for the technical reasons, but for addressing user needs. It’s easy for users to use general-purpose tools that they’re familiar with, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs. However, bespoke tools add significant value to the document creation process of specific types of documents, which is the case for APT. Researchers have provided valuable feedback for how APT can continue to improve. We hope that more Earth scientists will give the tool a chance to find out for themselves.

— Will Rynearson, Development Seed Product Owner

APT’s “Create a new ATBD” page, describing ATBD creation options

Other recent additions to APT improve both document security and user experience. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) was added to make sure users enter a one-time password at each login with the authentication application of their choice. Additionally, the team has added five user help videos demonstrating how to perform several different tasks in the APT user interface, including how to import BibTeX files to easily add references to the document. All user documentation has also been updated to include the current state of the interface, and a quick start guide has been added to help users create an account and get to work on their ATBD quickly.

What sets APT apart from how ATBDs were traditionally created and stored is having the entire process from initiation, draft, review, publication, to ATBD discovery within one tool. Authors and reviewers set the pace for how quickly an ATBD progresses with very little lag time to transition a document between different states, and updating a published ATBD is straightforward using APT’s versioning feature.

— Brad Baker, APT team lead

While the tool was developed for NASA Earth sciences, the design and content model could be adapted to support other purposes and communities such as planetary or space science, where algorithms are an integral component of scientific research. The NASA Satellite Needs Working Group has already used this adaptable content model to build the Report Generation Tool (RGT), an environment used to streamline the process of organizing the information gathered during biennial surveys and agency interviews (learn more about the RGT here). Brad Baker, the APT team lead, believes the content framework could even be changed to fit document creation in other disciplines.

Over the next year, the APT team will shift their focus from development to supporting active users and soliciting user feedback. Once enough feedback is gathered, the team plans to further improve the user experience by eliminating common issues. Several science teams such as TEMPO and OPERA are already actively working on ATBDs within the user interface and expect to be finished in the near future. Their feedback and experiences further improve this useful and functional tool.

Learn more about APT:

More information about IMPACT can be found on the NASA Earthdata and IMPACT project websites.



IMPACT Unofficial

This is the unofficial blog of the Interagency Implementation and Advanced Concepts Team.