EVALSO (Enabling Virtual Access to Latin-American Southern Observatories) is an international consortium of nine
astronomical organizations, and research network operators, part-funded under the European Commission FP7, to create
and exploit high-speed bandwidth connections to the observatories of Cerro Paranal and Cerro Armazones in Chile. The
communication infrastructure was delivered in November 2010 and this paper reports on the initial results of the project
and the demonstrations of its capabilities, including the possibilities that the new infrastructure opens up in the
geographically distributed operation of the observatories.
The ESO telescopes in Chile are operated in a geographically distributed scheme, in which some of the essential steps in
the end-to-end observing chain take place in Europe. Most notably, the health status of the instruments as derived from
the data themselves is monitored in Europe and the results fed back to the observatory within the hour. The flexibility of
this scheme strongly depends on the speed with which the data stream produced by the telescopes can be sent to Europe
for analysis and storage. The main challenge to achieve a fast intercontinental data transfer is the data volume itself,
which currently reaches an average 25 GB/night (compressed) for the four VLT Unit Telescopes. Since late 2008, this
stream has been entirely transferred through the internet via a 4.56 Mbit/s bandwidth assured via a Quality of Service
policy, which sufficed to transfer an average night of data within a few hours. A very recent enlargement of this capacity
to 9.12 Mbit/s will soon allow the addition of the calibration data for VISTA, the new infrared survey telescope on
Paranal, to the data stream transferred through the internet. Ultimately, the average data volume produced on Paranal
once the visible VLT Survey Telescope (VST) and the full complement of second-generation VLT instruments becomes
available is expected to exceed 200 GB/night. Transferring it over the internet will require a new fiber-based
infrastructure currently under construction, as well as the use of additional high bandwidth channels. This infrastructure,
provided by the European Union co-funded project EVALSO, should provide a data transfer capacity exceeding 1 Gbit/s
that will allow the transfer to Europe of the entire Paranal data stream, as well as that of the nearby Observatory of Cerro
Armazones and of the future European Extremely Large Telescope, with a delay of minutes at most since the data were
This paper elaborates on how ESO is looking forward to fully exploit all new opportunities that the high bandwidth
communication link delivered by the EVALSO project will make available to the ESO Paranal Observatory. EVALSO, a
project funded by the Framework Programme 7 of the European Union, stands for 'Enabling Virtual Access to Latin-american
Southern Observatories' (more at www.evalso.eu). Its goal is to enable fast access to two European optical
astronomical facilities in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, namely the world-class ESO Paranal Observatory and
the one run by the Ruhr Universität Bochum at the neighbouring Cerro Armazones. EVALSO plans to make available
the still missing physical infrastructure to efficiently connect these facilities to Europe via the international
infrastructures created in the last years with the European Commission support (ALICE, trans-Atlantic link, GEANT2)
ESO, as member of the EVALSO Consortium, is involved in the implementation of the link and has already started
together with the other members the analysis of the operational opportunities that this new capability will give the
European astronomical community, not only in terms of faster access to the collected data, but also opening the door to
new and more efficient ways of operating remote facilities.
Since the beginning on April 3, 1999, the start of observations with the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT), a significant fraction of the observations is executed in Service Mode (SM). SM observations require that the Principal Investigator (PI) provides all necessary information before the observation, so that the night astronomers in Chile have precise and complete indications on the execution requirements of every program. The observers also need to be able to know which observations can possibly be executed during a given night.
The missing link between these external users and the operations staff at ESO-Chile is the User Support Department (USD) which ensures that this information flow runs smoothly and in a uniform way. This requires the existence of a well-designed network of reports and communication procedures serving purposes such as conveying information from the users to the observatory, allowing the USD support astronomers an efficient review and validation of the material submitted by the users, enabling reliable program execution tracking, or providing rapid program progress feedback to the users, etc.. These tasks manage a level of information flow that complements that of the VLT Data Flow System.
This article will provide an overview about how the exchange of information for SM runs was optimized over the past 7 years, about the lessons learned by interacting with external users and internal operations staff, and the resulting changes and improvements.
The ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) started operations on Cerro Paranal (Chile) in April 1999 with one Unit Telescope and two science instruments. Seven years later it is still a growing facility consisting of four 8.2-m telescopes, three auxiliary telescopes for interferometry, and 11 science instruments. In addition two dedicated survey telescopes with wide-field cameras, VST and VISTA, a fourth auxiliary telescope, and several new instruments will become available in the coming months. Since the very beginning, VLT operations were planned to contain a substantial component of Service Mode observing, amounting to approximately 50% of the available time. The success of the full-scale implementation of Service Mode operations is reflected nowadays by the steady increase in its demand by the community, both in absolute terms and also relative to the demand in Visitor Mode, by the highly positive feedback received from the users, and also by the increasing flow of scientific results produced by programs that have exploited the unique advantages of flexible short-term scheduling. It is also fulfilling the requirement of creating a science archive and populating it with a data stream having through a quality control process. Here we review the current status of Service Mode observing at the VLT and the VLT Interferometer (VLTI), the challenges posed by its implementation on a wide variety of instrument modes, and its strong requirement of an integrated, end-to-end approach to operations planning with adequate tools and carefully defined policies and procedures. The experience of these seven years of VLT operations have led to a thorough exploration of operations paradigms that will be essential to the scientific success of ALMA and the extremely large optical telescopes in the coming decades.
The ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) is the first general-user interferometer that offers near- and mid-infrared long-baseline interferometric observations in service mode as well as visitor mode to the whole astronomical community. Regular VLTI observations with the first scientific instrument, the mid-infrared instrument MIDI, have started in ESO observing period P73, for observations between April and September 2004. The efficient use of the VLTI as a general-user facility implies the need for a well-defined operations scheme. The VLTI follows the established general operations scheme of the other VLT instruments. Here, we present from a users' point of view the VLTI specific aspects of this scheme beginning from the preparation of the proposal until the delivery of the data.
Progress in the conceptual design phase of ESO's OWL 100-m optical and near-infrared telescope is reported, with emphasis on the development of the science case. The Phase A opto-mechanical design is now basically completed, and provides a clean, symmetrical geometry of the pupil, with a near-circular outer edge. We also report about the latest outcome of industrial studies, introduce the essential definition of the wavefront control systems, and outline operational concepts and instruments priorities. Finally, we elaborate on the favorable cost factors associated to the telescope design, its compatibility with low industrial risks, and argue that progressive implementation allows for competitive timescales. In particular, we show that suitable fabrication and integration schemes should accommodate for a start of science operation at unequalled potential and within a time frame comparable to that of smaller designs, while at the same time maximizing R&D time for critical subsystems.
The end-to-end operations of the ESO VLT has now seen three full years of service to the ESO community. During that time its capabilities have grown to four 8.2m unit telescopes with a complement of four optical and IR multimode instruments being operated in a mixed Service Mode and Visitor Mode environment. The input and output of programs and data to the system is summarized over this period together with the growth in operations manpower. We review the difficulties of working in a mixed operations and development environment and the ways in which the success of the end-to-end approach may be measured. Finally we summarize the operational lessons learned and the challenges posed by future developments of VLT instruments and facilities such as interferometry and survey telescopes.