Virtual space tech

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Guest : Astronomy Visualization Metadata Standard
The astronomical education and public outreach (EPO) community plays a key role in conveying the results of scientific research to the general public. A key product of EPO development is a variety of non-scientific public image resources, both derived from scientific observations and created as artistic visualizations of scientific results. This refers to general image formats such as JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, not scientific FITS datasets. Such resources are currently scattered across the internet in a variety of galleries and archives, but are not searchable in any coherent or unified way.

Just as Virtual Observatory (VO) standards open up all data archives to a common query engine, the EPO community will benefit greatly from a similar mechanism for image search and retrieval. Existing metadata standards for the Virtual Observatory are tailored to the management of research datasets and only cover EPO resources (like publication quality imagery) at the “collection” level and are thus insufficient for the needs of the EPO community.

The primary focus of the AVM is on print-ready and screen ready astronomical imagery, which has been rendered from telescopic observations (also known as “pretty pictures”). Such images can combine data acquired at different wavebands and from different observatories. While the primary intent is to cover data-derived astronomical images, there are broader uses as well. Specifically, the most general subset of this schema is also appropriate for describing artwork and illustrations of astronomical subject matter. This is covered in some detail in later sections.



Guest : New testbed simulates space's formation flying future
9 September 2010

Any space mission is difficult, docking a pair of spacecraft is tough but flying multiple satellites in formation is the real cutting edge. A new software testbed allows ESA and industrial teams to get to grips with multiple-satellite missions to come, starting with Proba-3.

The Formation Flying Test Bed is a suite of software running across linked computers to simulate all aspects of a formation-flying mission. Overseen by ESA’s Software Systems division at ESTEC in the Netherlands, this new facility is similar to existing avionics test benches, except it can emulate running the software of more than a single spacecraft software at once.

“It is a generic simulator for formation flying missions, whether they include two spacecraft or as many as five or six,” explained Raffaella Franco of ESA’s System Modelling and Verification section.

Formation flying

The Formation Flying Test Bed is compliant with the Simulation Model Portability (SMP) standard, allowing simulation models to be shared across different systems. A leading user of space simulations, ESA led the development of SMP through the European Cooperation for Space Standardization.

The Formation Flying Testbed was developed by Belgium’s Spacebel, also responsible for Proba-3’s flight software. The project was backed through ESA’s General Support Technology Programme, which aims to mature basic prototypes into operational hardware.

In general, all applications which are not currently possible due to single satellite size limits can potentially be enabled by formation flying.


Guest : Video simulations of real earthquakes made available to worldwide network (video)
September 22, 2010

A Princeton University-led research team has developed the capability to produce realistic movies of earthquakes based on complex computer simulations that can be made available worldwide within hours of a disastrous upheaval.

The videos show waves of ground motion spreading out from an epicenter. In making them widely available, the team of computational seismologists and computer scientists aims to aid researchers working to improve understanding of earthquakes and develop better maps of the Earth's interior.

"In our view, this could truly change seismic science," said Princeton's Jeroen Tromp, a professor of geosciences and applied and computational mathematics, who led the effort. "The better we understand what happens during earthquakes, the better prepared we can be. In addition, advances in understanding seismic waves can aid basic science efforts, helping us understand the underlying physics at work in the Earth's interior. These visualizations, we believe, will add greatly to the research effort.''

In a scientific paper describing the system, which appeared online Sept. 16 and will be published in the October 2010 Geophysical Journal International, the team describes how it creates the videos. The movies will be made available for free. The easily downloadable videos can be viewed at: They tell the story in a language that is easy to understand, said Tromp, who also is the director of the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering (PICSciE).
Global ShakeMovie is Princeton University's Near Real Time Global Seismicity Portal. It has been designed to present the public with near real time visualizations of recent earthquakes. These movies are the results of simulations carried out on a large computer cluster. Movies and 3D synthetic seismograms are calculated based upon the software package SPECFEM3D_GLOBE.
Earthquake movies will be available for download approximately 1.5 hours (depending on magnitude) after the occurrence of a quake of magnitude 5.5 or greater.
... : Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics (CIG)

Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics (CIG) is a membership-governed organization that supports and promotes Earth science by developing and maintaining software for computational geophysics and related fields.

SPECFEM3D_GLOBE simulates global and regional (continental-scale) seismic wave propagation.

SPECFEM3D_GLOBE User Manual Effects due to lateral variations in compressional-wave speed, shear-wave speed, density, a 3D crustal model, ellipticity, topography and bathymetry, the oceans, rotation, and self-gravitation are all included.
Status Developed, maintained, and supported.
Bug reports RoundUp
License GNU Public License
Latest Release

SPECFEM3D_GLOBE_V5.0.1.tar.gz [2010-04-12]
Version 5.0.1 - Latest release, which includes new default sedimentary routines, bug fixes, and further optimizations for regional adjoint simulations.


Guest : Dust Models Paint Alien's View of Solar System

New supercomputer simulations tracking the interactions of thousands of dust grains show what the solar system might look like to alien astronomers searching for planets. The models also provide a glimpse of how this view might have changed as our planetary system matured.

"The planets may be too dim to detect directly, but aliens studying the solar system could easily determine the presence of Neptune -- its gravity carves a little gap in the dust," said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. who led the study. "We're hoping our models will help us spot Neptune-sized worlds around other stars."

NASAexplorer | September 23, 2010

Dust ground off icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt, the cold-storage zone that includes Pluto and millions of other objects, creates a faint infrared disk potentially visible to alien astronomers looking for planets around the sun. Neptune's gravitational imprint on the dust is always detectable in new simulations of how this dust moves through the solar system. By ramping up the collision rate, the simulations show how the distant view of the solar system might have changed over its history.

These images, produced by computer models that track the movement of icy grains, represent infrared snapshots of Kuiper Belt dust as seen by a distant observer. For the first time, the models include the effects of collisions among grains. By ramping up the collision rate, the simulations show how the distant view of the solar system might have changed over its history. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Marc Kuchner and Christopher Stark
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Simulated images of the ancient Kuiper Belt bear a striking resemblance to this Hubble Space Telescope view of the dusty ring around Fomalhaut, a young star located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. In 2008, Hubble spotted a planet orbiting inside the ring. The bright central star is masked out so that the faint ring can be seen. Credit: NASA/ESA/P. Kalas (Univ. of California, Berkeley) et al.
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Guest : A 3-D world: New technology allows students to take virtual field trips
October 7, 2010

By Karen A. Grava

The geowall is a 6' x 8' screen that superimposes images. Photo by Dan Buttrey

( -- The geosciences center may be ordering 3-D glasses by the hundreds, but students won’t be watching Avatar.

They will be using the new “geowall” that allows them to travel across the world, under the sea, and down through mountains, earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural phenomena on earth and in space, all without leaving Storrs.

The geowall is not a wall at all but a six-by-eight-foot screen that superimposes images using two LCD projectors in addition to a two-by-two array of LCD screens with 20-million pixel resolution. The projection system also has cameras, microscopes, scanners, and sophisticated 3-D processing software.

“The system allows us to do things in a virtual way that we would have had to spend hours and hours doing in a tedious, traditional way,” says Pieter Visscher, head of the Center for Integrative Geosciences and a professor of marine sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The system provides an incredible state-of-the-art tool to educate geoscience students in the basic sciences, and to provide faculty an opportunity to further their research.”

The $125,000 wall was funded by the Fund for Innovation established by Harold and Paula Schwenk to create projects that create a synergy between teaching and research.

Without the wall, faculty teaching students about earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and other phenomena used movies, plastic 3-D maps, or aerial photographs.

“These traditional methods of demonstrating phenomena to students fail to communicate the interconnectedness and four-dimensionality of earth and environmental processes,” Visscher says.

The system allows users to, among other things, zoom in, connect rock formations under and above the sea, measure the dimensions and weight of a rock, map a fossil, visualize mineral structures, or obtain biogeochemical information about sediments, all with the use of a mouse and key pad. So researchers no longer have to chip off part of a rock in order to analyze it, for instance.

The center will have virtual field trips to remote places, such as the Australian outback and Taiwanese gorges, and plans to use images of extraterrestrial exploration.

The geowall is useful for map interpretation, microscopy, and 3-D images, and can demonstrate the fundamentals of a range of objects, from molecular structures to seismic wavefronts.

It also allows researchers to look at high-resolution photos of fossils and life organisms and other objects, and to study sediment, volcanoes, tsunamis and other waves, landscapes, and images from satellite photos, such as the federal geographic information system.

The projection system also allows instructors to project a microscopic image, for instance, of a mineral and rotate it in three dimensions.
The geowall will be used by more than 800 students in basic science classes. More than 200 other students a year will also benefit from the technology, Visscher says.

Because of its broad applications, the geowall will be used by faculty and students in a number of CLAS departments including anthropology, chemistry, ecology and evolutionary biology, geography, marine sciences, molecular and cell biology, and several departments in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the School of Engineering.

The system is complemented by a camera that is now on loan to UConn by NASA. The camera eventually will be used on the Mars Science Lab, the next generation of Martian Rover.

“This system is critical for students so they can understand our planet, its history, and its future,” Visscher says. “They can use the system to look at the effects of global warming, and they can ‘travel’ around the world in a way that would be cost-prohibitive for large groups of students.”
The system will also help prepare students for jobs, since it is similar to that used by some industries, such as oil and gas.

Provided by University of Connecticut


Guest : NASA Establishes Tournament Lab For Software Developers
NASA and Harvard University have established the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL), which will enable software developers to compete with each other to create the best computer code for NASA systems.

The NTL provides an online virtual facility for NASA researchers with a computational or complex data processing challenge to "order" a solution, just like they would order laboratory tests or supplies.

Software developers will compete with each other to create a winning solution, as measured by internal code quality, performance against benchmarks, and the ability to be integrated into NASA systems. The competition will provide the researchers with a finished software solution at a lower cost than if they hired an individual developer or team.

"NASA is at the forefront of this cutting edge approach," said Jason Crusan, chief technologist for space operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We want to advance knowledge of how to manage these tournaments and gain solutions to technical mission requirements with real world results for operational and future programs allows."

This approach, often termed "crowd sourcing" or "broadcast search," lessens the effects of uncertainty in software development by searching for a problem's solution through multiple, parallel paths. Instead of relying on one individual or team, the researcher can access many, independent ideas, which increases the chances of a successful solution.

The lab will be housed at Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science under the direction of Principal Investigator and Harvard Business School Professor Karim R. Lakhani, a leading scholar on distributed innovation and crowdsourcing. London Business School Professor Kevin Boudreau, an expert on platform-based competition, will be the chief economist of the NTL.

Under the NTL initiative, Lakhani and Boudreau also will conduct basic empirical research on the appropriate contest design parameters that yield the most effective solutions in a tournament setting. This will enable the routine use of innovation tournaments as a problem solving approach within NASA and the rest of the public sector. Harvard will collaborate with TopCoder Inc., a company that administers contests in software architecture and development, to manage and conduct the tournaments.

Lakhani and Boudreau have previously worked with challenge implementation companies to launch three experimental competitions using problems from the Harvard Medical School's Clinical and Translational Science Center and NASA's division of Space Life Sciences. Results from the experiments demonstrated the ability to deliver high performing solutions and extend the concept of innovation tournaments to scientific and engineering contexts.

Founded in 2001, TopCoder provides a stable infrastructure for conducting competitions. Through its website, members obtain problems; submit solutions, judge submissions, and view results, scores and statistics.

All member activities are tracked in real-time and performance statistics are made available for all to see. The website also enhances interaction through a "town square" with discussion boards and a wiki to share information.

For additional information about the NASA Tournament Lab initiative, visit:


Guest : NASA Open Source Software Development
Open source development-which allows free access to software source code to allow anyone to make improvements-is revolutionizing the way software is created, improved, and used. The open source software movement is inherently transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Open source at NASA gives the public direct and ongoing access to NASA technology. Its adoption by NASA also helps lower the barrier to entry into space by enabling private industry to better make use of NASA investments. Although open source release has already provided numerous benefits to NASA and the public, the full benefits of open source can only be achieved when we establish the processes, policies, and corporate culture to favor open source development. This would shift our open source activities from its one-way direction of giving the public access to finalized software products, to allowing two-way collaboration as part of the development process. The benefits of allowing the public to assist in development of NASA software include increased software quality, accelerated software development, and a higher rate of technology transfer both to and from NASA.
... : Open Source Projects


Guest : Virtual flight on a robotic arm
2 November 2010

By Manuela Braun

Andreas Knoblach in the Robot Motion Simulator

Only Andreas Knoblach's legs hang out from under the cover of the 'cockpit'. They are dangling in five metres above the ground while the enormous robotic arm slowly swivels the virtual-reality 'capsule' and its occupant and moves along a track in front of a large screen. Mountains, valleys and meadows are visible. Knoblach can see the same scene on a screen in front of him. He is about to begin a flight that simulates everything. It lasts only a few minutes and he has already turned upside down and back again. The robotic arm moves forwards and backwards, swivelling the man at the joystick up and back down again. Finally the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) scientist ends up sitting upside down in the capsule while he flies virtually through the air in a twin-engine light aircraft, working his way through spectacular aerobatic manoeuvres.


Guest : All These Worlds Are Yours: Visualizing Space Data
Organizer :
Veronica McGregor, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Description :
At the intersection of video gaming technology, open government and citizen science are new applications making it easier and more fun for the public to explore space data. Get an inside look at virtual environments incorporating real-time spacecraft data and images. Become an armchair astronaut and travel through the cosmos from your personal computer. Ride along with NASA spacecraft, hazardous asteroids and distant planets, or just experience the vastness and beauty of space. All these worlds are yours... including Europa.

Questions Answered :
1. What games, applications and virtual environments are being developed using space mission data?
2. Where have the spacecraft been, what have they seen, and how is their data processed to create these environments?
3. How quickly is real-time science data available for the public to see?
4. What are the educational applications of these environments?
5. What does an earth flyby look like from an asteroid's POV?

Level : Beginner
Category : User Experience
Tags : education, science, visualization
Type : Panel
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