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A common language to boost future space expeditions

EU-funded researchers with the IMPEX project have made it possible to compare data from numerous space missions, potentially increasing our knowledge of the solar system.

When astronauts first gazed down at our planet, humankind received a visceral reminder that we all come from one place. EU-funded scientists are confident that another giant leap forward in space exploration has just been taken with the establishment of a common data hub. This hub, developed through the four-year IMPEX (Integrated medium for planetary exploration) project with nearly EUR 2 million in EU funding through FP7, addresses a key problem that has consistently hampered cooperation in space exploration; the fact that complex computational models used on various space expeditions have not been compatible. This means that the exchange and comparison of observational data between missions has not always been possible. Thanks to IMPEX, scientists will now be able to compare observational data with simulation models, and essentially ‘speak the same language’ as scientists across the globe. The project has developed a portal that enables a huge amount of information received from past and ongoing missions to be available at one single point, along with tools to make this information accessible. The four-year project has already been put into use. Scientists have been able to compare data taken from the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Venus Express mission launched in 2005 and NASA’s Messenger mission, which orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2015, with existing simulation models. Comparisons with observational data from ESA’s famous Rosetta mission, which performed the first soft landing on a comet in 2015, are expected to follow in the near future. By comparing observational data with a simulation of the cometary environment, scientists hope to gain a much clearer understanding of how our solar system came into existence. Research into the magnetic fields surrounding Venus, Mercury and other objects in the solar system has also been advanced. In order to get to this point however, the project first had to bring together experts from Austria, France, Finland and Russia to specify key requirements and outline possible obstacles. This enabled the team to design the functional and easy-to-use software and to define common data models. The project was then able to develop a single point of access to an impressive range of tools that can be used to work with different data in the field of plasma physics. Within the IMPEX portal, the CDPP AMDA (Automated Multi-Dataset Analysis) tool provides simple access and easy-to-use data mining functionalities. Another tool is the CDPP 3DView, which enables scientists to simulate spacecraft trajectories. In fact, all IMPEX databases directly feed into 3DView, enabling an interactive combination of spacecraft orbits with in-situ measurements and simulation data. Due for completion at the end of May 2015, IMPEX is expected to boost understanding and cooperation between modelling and space mission data experts, and help lay the groundwork for future missions in a cost-effective and highly collaborative manner. For further information please visit: IMPEX http://impex-fp7.oeaw.ac.at/

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