At present, multi-observatory programs are initiated by submitting observing proposals separately to each concerned observatory. To assure that the proposed observations can be scheduled, each observatory's staff has to check that the observations are valid and meet all constraints for their own observatory; in addition, they have to verify that the observations satisfy the constraints of the other observatories. Thus, coordinated observations require painstaking manual collaboration among staffs at each observatory. Due to the lack of automated tools for coordinated observations, this process is time consuming and error-prone, and the outcome of requests is not certain until the very end. To increase multi-observatory operations efficiency, such resource intensive processes need to be re-engineered.
To overcome this critical deficiency, Goddard Space Flight Center's Advanced Architectures and Automation Branch is developing a prototype called the Visual Observation Layout Tool (VOLT). The main objective of VOLT is to provide visual tools to help automate the planning of coordinated observations by multiple astronomical observatories, as well as to increase the probability of scheduling all observations.
Planning and executing observations that are coordinated across multiple spacecraft is essential to reaching future space and earth science goals. The current lack of automated tools and interfaces across observatories makes coordinated observing resource intensive for the observatories and consequently limits scientific research. The proposed tools will facilitate the coordinated observing processes necessary to achieve the concept of a ``virtual observatory'' that will spawn a new era of science data collection.
A number of advanced visual tools are currently being developed to help the observers and principal investigators of astronomical phenomena in their observation planning. Among early entries in this arena are the Scientist's Expert Assistant and Astronomer's Proposal Tool (APT), which enable the observers to simulate the quality of their observation based upon observing parameters (e.g., target properties, instrument setup, and observatory condition). However, the outcome of the proposed requests is still uncertain as the schedulability of the observation, which is affected by observatory related factors, is still unknown for the requested time period. This problem is magnified many-fold when collaboration among observatories is needed to coordinate the planning of a set of observations through multi-wavelength campaigns that involve variable phenomena, interacting binary systems, and other events of extreme interest to astronomers for the quantitative understanding of galactic and extra-galactic phenomena and for developing realistic physical models.
The main objective of the VOLT project is to provide visual tools to help automate the planning of coordinated observations by multiple astronomical observatories, as well as to increase the scheduling probability of all observations. Thus, these tools will not only provide the users with the required schedulability data, but will also help and guide them in determining the best possible times when the group of observations may be placed in compliance with their coordination goals.
The intended goals of VOLT are:
The primary impact of the tools provided by VOLT will be in the arena of coordinated observations involving two or more observatories, as shown below:
Although multi-observatory coordinations involving three to five observatories are envisioned for some studies, currently very few coordinated observations (e.g., 7 - 10% of observations for HST) are requested and take place due to the uncertain, manual and labor-intensive nature of such coordinations. Due to the lack of resources, some observatories (e.g., FUSE) do not support coordinated planning except in extreme cases. Users themselves are also discouraged from requesting three or more coordinated observations due to the complexity involved. These new tools will help both astronomers and observatory scheduling staffs in planning for such complex observations. They will reduce the manual workload, and thus the cost, of coordinated and time-constrained observations.
Once VOLT has achieved the above two goals, more astronomers will apply for coordinated observations. Coordinated observations will have become feasible enough that observatories can take a further step in coordination: accepting a single proposal that will apply to all observatories involved in the coordinated program, thereby permitting a given scientific topic to be investigated as a whole, rather than as fragmented proposals that the observer hopes will succeed at each of the separate observatories requested.
The authors would like to acknowledge the active support of the following persons in developing the VOLT prototype:
Glenn Miller, Beth Perriello, Anuradha Koratkar, Karla Peterson and Peg Stanley: Space Telescope Science Institute - for help in establishing VOLT system requirements.
Bryce Roberts: Johns Hopkins University - for help in interfacing with FUSE observatory data.
Peterson, K., Eckert, M., Remage-Evans, N., Hilton, P., Perriello, B., Roberts, B., Smith, E., & Stanley, P. 1999, Proceedings of SPIE, vol. 4010, 279
Misra, D., Bopf, M., Fishman, M., Jones, J., Kerbel, U., & Pell, V. 2000, SpaceOps