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The European Space Agency Uses InterSystems Technology for Groundbreaking Galactic Mapping Project

looking into space

An Intergalactic Collaboration

In the rapidly progressing world of astronomy, a remarkable collaboration is driving forward our understanding of the universe. The European Space Agency (ESA) has partnered with the advanced database technology provider, InterSystems, to process and analyse massive data sets collected by the Gaia mission. This collaboration, utilising InterSystems technology, is instrumental in creating the largest ever map of the Milky Way, marking a significant leap forward in our cosmic knowledge.

InterSystems Caché Processes and Verifies Enormous Astronomical Data Sets for the Science Operation Center in Spain

The Gaia mission, hailed as the most formidable data processing challenge in the history of astronomy, has created an unprecedented star catalogue. Thanks to over 30 billion observations, scientists have taken high-precision measurements of nearly 1.7 billion stars, revealing details of our Galaxy like never before.

In April, the European Space Agency (ESA) unveiled the largest-ever available catalogue, built from satellite observations made between July 2014 and May 2016. This extensive data set includes the positions, distance indicators, and movements of stars. It also provides precise measurements of asteroids within our solar system and stars beyond the Milky Way.

As per the ESA, the observations harvested by the Gaia satellite are revolutionising the very foundations of astronomy. This project marks a massive leap from ESA’s first space mission, the Hipparcos satellite, which studied around 118,000 stars some 30 years ago.

The Gaia catalogue is a remarkable example of "open science", accessible to anyone interested. ESA predicts that by its completion in 2024, the catalogue will contain over one petabyte of information. All this data is hosted and archived by the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) located in Villanueva de la Cañada (Madrid), making it available for the global scientific community.

The Role of InterSystems Caché in Accelerating Data Unpacking

The Gaia satellite transmits its data first to the ESAC, where the mission’s Science Operation Centre receives both scientific data from the onboard telescope and auxiliary data. Besides the Cebreros station in Spain, the data is also captured by antennas in New Norcia, Australia, and Malargüe, Argentina.

On average, the Centre in Spain receives about 40GB of data daily, with variations depending on the region of the Galaxy surveyed by the satellite. When Gaia scans the centre of the Milky Way, the total volume escalates to 70 – 80GB.

As the telemetry is received, the data is decompressed and integrated into InterSystems technology. This technology serves as the operational database for the software systems carrying out pre-processing, data verification, initial image processing, and state monitoring of the onboard science systems. These operations must be accomplished within 24 hours, making the role of the InterSystems technologyback-end system indispensable. Its impressive processing speed and ability to access approximately 40 terabytes of information — the average saved data volume required for all calculations — are crucial. InterSystems technology was selected for these complex procedures due to its exceptional reliability and performance.

Thanks to InterSystems technology, Spanish scientists can accurately evaluate the status of the instruments aboard the satellite and assess the quality of the scientific data that will be sent later to other centres within DPAC (Data Processing and Analysis Consortium). DPAC, comprised of scientific organisations, universities, research centres, and observatories from various European countries, handles the data processing.

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) serves as Europe's conduit to space, developing space capabilities, and ensuring that investment in space-related activities continue to benefit European citizens.

The ESA comprises 22 member states. By pooling the economic and intellectual resources of its members, it enables programs and activities of a far larger scale than any single European country could undertake individually.

ESA's mission encompasses the development and execution of the European space program. Its programs aim to deepen our understanding of Earth, its surrounding space environment, the solar system, and the universe. Simultaneously, the ESA is committed to developing satellite-based technologies and services and promoting European industry.

The Journey to Map Our Milky Way

As we delve deeper into this article, it becomes abundantly clear how integral the InterSystems technology has been in managing the massive influx of data from the Gaia mission. Without this efficient and reliable database technology, it would have been exponentially more challenging for the ESA to produce such an unprecedented star catalogue. This pioneering collaboration between the ESA and InterSystems is a testament to the importance of leveraging innovative technological solutions in the pursuit of scientific discovery.

The journey to map our Milky Way in such immense detail exemplifies how fruitful partnerships between technology and scientific research can redefine our understanding of the universe.

FAQ Section

What is the Gaia mission?

The Gaia mission is an initiative led by the European Space Agency (ESA) aimed at creating the largest and most detailed map of the Milky Way galaxy. It has generated the most comprehensive star catalogue to date, based on over 30 billion observations.

How does InterSystems technology contribute to the Gaia mission?

InterSystems technology plays a crucial role in the initial processing of all galactic data
collected by the Gaia mission. It serves as the working database for software systems that handle tasks such as pre-processing, verifying data, and initial processing of images. Its high-speed processing capabilities and the ability to handle large data volumes make it invaluable for this mission.

What does the Science Operation Centre do with the data sent by Gaia?

The Science Operation Centre receives the telemetry from Gaia, which includes scientific data from the onboard telescope and auxiliary data. Using InterSystems technology, this data is decompressed and integrated for pre-processing, verification, and initial image processing.

What is the significance of this data processing?

The processing of this data allows scientists to assess the state of the onboard science systems, verify the quality of the scientific data, and understand the status of the instruments on the satellite. This information is crucial for the continued success of the Gaia mission.

Who is responsible for the further processing of the data?

The Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), which is composed of various scientific organisations, universities, study centres, and observatories from different European countries, is responsible for further processing and analysis of the data.

What are the expected outcomes of the Gaia mission?

The Gaia mission aims to redefine the foundations of astronomy by providing high-precision measurements of nearly 1,700 million stars and previously unseen details of our galaxy. It also seeks to facilitate an open science mission, making all collected data available to the science community for further research and discovery.

How does the collaboration with InterSystems enhance the ESA's mission?

The collaboration with InterSystems provides the ESA with a robust and reliable technology platform to handle the enormous volume of data generated by the Gaia mission. The database technology, known for its speed and reliability, allows for efficient data processing and analysis, which is critical in achieving the ESA's mission objectives.