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Ensuring sky-high return on investment for the ISS

Since the first team of astronauts went on-board in 2000, the International Space Station has cost the international community over EUR 7 billion. Whilst a significant amount of data has been generated, ensuring a return on the investment requires the storage, dissemination an...

Since the first team of astronauts went on-board in 2000, the International Space Station has cost the international community over EUR 7 billion. Whilst a significant amount of data has been generated, ensuring a return on the investment requires the storage, dissemination and exploitation of this new knowledge. Most people see the International Space Station (ISS) as the shiniest and most expensive example of post-Cold-War space cooperation between nations. But what is less well-known is the amount of valuable scientific data that is harnessed thanks to this joint undertaking. Over 400 scientific experiments in fields such as biology, human physiology, physical and materials science, and Earth and space science have been conducted on the ISS over the last decade. Initiated in July 2012, the CIRCE project aims to build and develop an international e-infrastructure capable of supporting and promoting the exploitation of the scientific data generated by the ISS and other major space missions. The stakes are high, and so are the obstacles: a large number of partners can be difficult to coordinate, and there is currently a lack of regulations and guidelines for data dissemination and exploitation. Luigi Carotenuto, technical manager of CIRCE, explains how the project is contributing to an e-infrastructure roadmap and the definition of guidelines for future research programmes. What are the main objectives of CIRCE? CIRCE is a coordination action promoted by Telespazio and German and French Space Agencies (DLR and CNES respectively). It is co-funded by the European Commission under FP7, and has two major objectives. The first involves designing a roadmap for establishing a European e-infrastructure capable of ensuring the long-term preservation and exploitation of the scientific data produced on-board the International Space Station. Secondly, we aim to foster cooperation with the international partners of the ISS in order to achieve a common vision of data e-infrastructure. Why was it important to initiate this project? Space data are an important scientific asset. Not only do they demand a huge amount of resources - making them almost impossible to repeat - but they are also submitted to rigorous peer review, which provides for unique scientific content. And they concern a broad spectrum of scientific domains, from life and material sciences to physics. The use of space data should be maximised as it contributes to the development of knowledge and applications that directly benefit citizens. The ISS is the most complex and powerful laboratory for research in space, but preservation of the data over the long term is not assured. Data preservation and accumulation would provide the basis for further research and knowledge development. However, achieving this requires a data e-infrastructure able to support systematic preservation of data from ISS and other space platforms and allowing users to find, access and exploit such data. CIRCE stems from the previous ULISSE2 project, which was promoted by the European centres for scientific operations on ISS and co-funded by the European Commission. Being the first initiative of its kind, ULISSE explored the main issues of data preservation for the ISS, identifying possible solutions and tools. It also implemented a demonstrator which provides the main services for data access and use by integrating a set of distributed resources. The demonstrator has shown the feasibility and usefulness of an e-infrastructure to interoperate with ISS-distributed repositories in accordance with relevant legal constraints. The ULISSE experience also indicated that establishing an operative data e-infrastructure would require close cooperation between the main ISS stakeholders - CIRCE intends to respond to this need. What is new about the way CIRCE addresses ISS-related cooperation? For the first time with the ISS, we are promoting a new vision for research based on an enhanced sharing of space data to promote its further use. The European Commission, space agencies, ICT companies and experts, and various scientific communities have all come together for this project, which is essential to the realisation of a data e-infrastructure although it has never been attempted before. CIRCE ensures the constant involvement of all the necessary parties and the promotion of these coordinated initiatives. What difficulties did you encounter and how did you solve them? A common vision for ISS data exploitation and the possible benefits of a cooperative approach has not been consolidated yet. This is reflected, for example, by the diversity of policies for data dissemination used by different stakeholders. The CIRCE project has collected the various standpoints on the subject; moreover, through its international workshops the project is stimulating a joint discussion with all the ISS research stakeholders, proposing possible solutions and future initiatives for their implementation. What are the concrete results from your research so far? The project has already achieved technical results and taken important coordination initiatives. From a technical point of view, we have assessed user communities and their needs in terms of data exploitation, defined the services to be deployed by a data e-infrastructure, and identified a new data model. In terms of coordination initiatives, we prepared a position paper that has been signed by all European scientific operation centres, which drew attention to the relevance of ISS data preservation ahead of the ESA Ministerial Conference held in November 2012. A first workshop was also held successfully at the European Commission in Brussels in February 2013. It gathered together representatives of various space agencies (ESA, ASI, CNES, DLR, CSA and Roscosmos), the scientific community engaged in ISS research, and experts in relevant information technologies. Requirements and key issues - such as the need to harmonise data policies, engage the user community through the proper recognition of scientific merits, and enable users to find and retrieve space data - were identified by the participants. What are the main outcomes you expect from this project? The project will identify the main programmatic steps and technical solutions. It will draft an implementation roadmap and will identify the possible funding opportunities for the development of a data e-infrastructure for the ISS. In addition, CIRCE will contribute to international cooperation among ISS partners to improve the dissemination and utilisation of scientific space data. What are the next steps for the project? The project is now preparing the second international workshop on the exploitation of ISS data, which will be held in Brussels at the Belgium Royal Observatory on 26-27 November. After the completion of CIRCE, we plan to deepen the knowledge representation in the domain of ISS experimentation in order to improve data models. On this basis, we will keep pursuing opportunities to develop an e-infrastructure for the exploitation of ISS science data.For more information, please visit: CIRCE Project factsheet