In the last few years the ubiquitous availability of high bandwidth networks has changed the way both robotic and non-robotic telescopes operate, with single isolated telescopes being integrated into expanding "smart" telescope networks that can span continents and respond to transient events in seconds. The Heterogeneous Telescope Networks (HTN)* Consortium represents a number of major research groups in the field of robotic telescopes, and together we are proposing a standards based approach to providing interoperability between the existing proprietary telescope networks. We further propose standards for interoperability, and integration with, the emerging Virtual Observatory.
We present the results of the first interoperability meeting held last year and discuss the protocol and transport standards agreed at the meeting, which deals with the complex issue of how to optimally schedule observations on geographically distributed resources. We discuss a free market approach to this scheduling problem, which must initially be based on ad-hoc agreements between the participants in the network, but which may eventually expand into a electronic market for the exchange of telescope time.
Linking ground based telescopes with astronomical satellites, and using the emerging field of intelligent agent architectures to provide crucial autonomous decision making in software, we have combined data archives and research class robotic telescopes along with distributed computing nodes to build an ad-hoc peer-to-peer heterogeneous network of resources. The eSTAR Project* uses intelligent agent technologies to carry out resource discovery, submit observation requests and analyze the reduced data returned from a meta-network of robotic telescopes. We present the current operations paradigm of the eSTAR network and describe the direction of in which the project intends to develop over the next several years. We also discuss the challenges facing the project, including the very real sociological one of user acceptance.
The eSTAR Project uses intelligent agent technologies to carry out resource discovery, submit observation requests and analyze the reduced data returned from a network of robotic telescopes in an observational grid. The agents are capable of data mining and cross-correlation tasks using on-line catalogues and databases and, if necessary, requesting additional data and follow-up observations from the telescopes on the network. We discuss how the maturing agent technologies can be used both to provide rapid followup to time critical events, and for long term monitoring of known sources, utilising the available resources in an intelligent manner.