European Space Agency

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European Space Agency

Powered by Versant database technology, the ESA Herschel telescope is delivering image and spectroscopic data from outer space– and the astrophysical world is raving about it.


Outer space offers some very tough conditions for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel Telescope. "Infrared radiation, high-energy particles from solar eruptions and other events are constantly bombarding the measurement equipment on board.

Satellite parts which we keep shadowed from the Sun at all times are icy cold while other parts, such as boxes containing electronic equipment, have to be kept at room temperature," describes Dr. Johannes Riedinger, Herschel Mission Manager, stationed at Noordwijk (The Netherlands). "Thus, instruments have to be monitored regularly and re-calibrated as needed by ground personnel."

"To ensure that the spacecraft and instruments are operated near their optimum settings we need permanent feedback from the Instrument Control Centers," adds Dr. Riedinger. On previous ESA missions, the teams responsible for the in-flight instruments had to use a multitude of tools to analyze critical instrument data extracted from various files.


"With the Versant Object Database, we now have a technology at our fingertips that has significantly simplified our work," tells Dr. Riedinger. "The data obtained from the satellite is available in the Versant database on the same day."

Object databases are particularly suitable for managing complex and networked data structures. Once stored, the data is more easily and quickly retrieved compared to conventional database systems. For example, cross-references and pointers are directly mapped in the database and greatly simplify data navigation and queries. "The object database permits much more direct data access," says Dr. Riedinger.

Faster and better analysis of instrument data is a significant improvement over previous projects. The new system reduces the time it takes to feed the improved parameter settings to Herschel's on-board instruments for upcoming observations. It also reduces the time required for the requested information from observations to reach the astronomers. Ultimately, this will improve the scientific return from the mission.


The Herschel team uses Versant's object database to manage telemetry data and observation programs recommended by astronomers. After the May 2009 launch Herschel started transmitting measure- ment data to the ground operations centers, providing the scientific commu- nity with many years‘ worth of research data. The telescope collects far infrared and sub-millimeter light and is able to discover extremely cold objects which radiate no visible light and previously invisible objects that have been hidden by clouds of dust and gas.

"The data enables astrophysicists all over the world to draw conclusions about the creation of stars and galaxies and will tell them more about the molecular composition of the universe," explains Dr. Riedinger.

Every day, the Herschel telescope collects an average of six to seven gigabit raw telemetry data and manages the data in an on-board storage facility. The data is downloaded and then transmitted to the ESA satellite control center in Darmstadt, Germany, and forwarded to the scientific contraol center in Madrid, Spain. Once having been decompressed, data is stored in a Versant Object Database and replicated for use in the national Instrument Control Centers (ICCs) in Groningen (The Netherlands), Garching (Germany) and Oxfordshire (UK).

By the end of Herschel’s useful life of about 48 months, the Herschel Science Archive will contain a minimum of 50 terabyte of data, which will be available to the scientific community – astronomers and other interested parties - for analysis for another 20 years.

About ESA

Headquartered in Paris, The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA is an international organisation with 18 Member States. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, it can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.