Letters of Intent for 2015

LoI 2015-202
Technology, Data-handling, and Operational Challenges for Large Astronomical Facilities

Date: 4 August 2015 to 8 August 2015
Location: GA, Honolulu , United States
Contact: Valentin M. Pillet (vmpillet@nso.edu)
Coordinating division: Division E Sun and Heliosphere
Co-Chairs of SOC: Valentin M. Pillet (NSO)
Anthony J. Tyson (UC Davis)
Chair of LOC: TBD ()



1) Advanced mirror technologies to achieve either very large apertures or complex geometries.
2) Advanced adaptive optics systems: multi-conjugate, …
3) Operations modes to enable high data rates and high-throughput analysis pipelines
4) Data center designs to support international access to multi-TB data sets and processing needs.



Technology, Operations, and Data-handling Challenges for future Large Telescopes
Future astronomical telescope facilities are distinguished not only by larger primary mirror diameters, but by technological advances in optics and instrumentation accompanied by large increases in the data rates expected during routine operations. The Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST) currently under construction on Haleakala mountain on the island of Maui, Hawaii, will be a 4-meter telescope -- not large by far-object astronomical standards. But it will utilize advanced multi-conjugate adaptive optics (AO) and complex focal plane instrumentation to produce up to 30 TB of data daily, an order of magnitude greater than any facility currently operating on the ground or in space. The complexity of coordinating up to four simultaneously operating instruments, each with at least two large-format CCDs reading out at rates of 30 Hz or more implies that a typical observer will not have the expertise to operate this facility in the classical “PI access” mode. New operational models as well as advanced data handling and access tools will be required to support the needs of scientists during the ATST era.

Similarly, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) to be constructed on Cerra Pachón, Chile, is “only” an 8-meter class telescope. But it contains the largest digital focal plane camera in history: a 3.2 Gpixel CCD camera that will produce approximately 20 TB per night of data leading to an eventual survey database of over 60 PB in size. The optical, camera control, and data handling technologies of the LSST are groundbreaking in their complexity and offer a template for future very large aperture and data rate facilities. Operating in pure “survey” mode, the LSST will serve the scientific community primarily by providing efficient access and analysis tools for exploration of its large data storage facilities. Other planned facilities such as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (GSMT) will face similar challenges in design, data handling, and operational service to the scientific user community.
We propose a Symposium meeting at the 2015 GA in Hawaii to explore the optical, computing, data handling and operations challenges of these and future large astronomical facilities. The meeting will bring optical engineers, camera designers, data handling and processing specialists as well as operations specialists together with scientists to discuss the requirements and strategies for successful use of advanced telescope facilities. For the extremely large aperture telescopes planned for the coming decade, we can anticipate major challenges in mirror control and adaptive optics to provide high quality imaging with 30-meter class apertures. For the high data rate facilities we will have sessions focusing on the technological as well as human interface challenges inherent in dealing with tens of TB of data per observing day. These sessions will bring the user community together with data center designers to discuss the needs and desires of scientists who will be “observing the archive” rather than observing images as they come into the telescope. Finally, we will discuss the increasingly critical function of operations design and the tools needed for advanced service or ``queue’’ mode observing and how to successfully integrate these more efficient modes of observing with the user community’s expectations of scheduling and data production. The end result will be a comprehensive view of the design, data handling, and operations challenges and some of the current and future solutions that will enable the next generation of astronomical facilities.