The Liverpool Telescope has undergone a major revision of operations model, improving the facility's flexibility and
rapid response to targets of opportunity. We switched from a "full service" model where observers submitted requests to
the Support Astronomer for checking and uploading into the scheduler database to a direct access model where observers
personally load sequences directly into the database at any time, including during the night. A new data model describing
the observing specifications has been developed over two years for the back-end operations infrastructure and has been
invisible to users until early 2010 when the new graphical user interface was deployed to all observers. The development
project has been a success, defined as providing new flexible operating modes to users without incurring any downtime
at the change over or interruption to the ongoing monitoring projects in which the observatory specializes. Devolving
responsibility for data entry to users does not necessarily simplify the role of observatory staff. Ceding that absolute
hands-on control by experienced staff complicates the support task because staff no longer have advance personal
knowledge of everything the telescope is doing. In certain cases software utilities and controls can be developed to
simplify tasks for both observers and operations staff.
This paper describes a modular component architecture for the construction of observation schedulers along with a simulation framework with which schedulers can be tested under a variety of environmental scenarios. We discuss a series of basic efficiency and quality metrics which can be used to measure the value of schedules. Results are presented from a series of simulations using this framework in which a set of observation scheduling paradigms ranging from on-demand despatching to a short-horizon look-ahead scheduler are tested under a series of increasingly challenging environmental conditions.
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 Liverpool Telescope is a 2.0 metre robotic telescope that is operating unattended at the Observatorio del Roque de Los Muchachos, Spain. This paper gives an overview of the design and implementation of the telescope and its instrumentation and presents a snapshot of the current performance during the commissioning process. Science observations are under way, and we give brief highlights from a number of programmes that have been enabled by the robotic nature of the telescope.
The Liverpool Telescope (LT) is a fully robotic 2m telescope located on La Palma in the Canary Islands. It has been in operation since July 2003 and has just started (April 2004) initial robotic operations. In this paper we describe the implementation of the heuristic dispatch scheduler, its interaction with the Robotic Control System (RCS), details of performance metrics we intend to use and present some initial results.
Since the Faulkes Telescopes are to be used by a wide variety of audiences, both powerful engineering level and simple graphical interfaces exist giving complete remote and robotic control of the telescope over the internet. Security is extremely important to protect the health of both humans and equipment. Data integrity must also be carefully guarded for images being delivered directly into the classroom. The adopted network architecture is described along with the variety of security and intrusion detection software. We use a combination of SSL, proxies, IPSec, and both Linux iptables and Cisco IOS firewalls to ensure only authenticated and safe commands are sent to the telescopes. With an eye to a possible future global network of robotic telescopes, the system implemented is capable of scaling linearly to any moderate (of order ten) number of telescopes.
In the traditional, manned observatory, an astronomer must continually be weighing together many factors during the course of an observing run in order to make an appropriate decision on the course of action at that time. Weather conditions may force suspension of the observing program to protect the telescope, later to be resumed when conditions improve. Power outages may force controlled shutdown of computers and other hardware. Changes in sky condition may require on-the-fly changes to the scheduled program. For the Liverpool Telescope (LT), the Robotic Control System (RCS) is designed to act as a replacement for the duty astronomer. The system is required to be robust, reliable and adaptable e.g. to future instrument configurations and varying operational objectives. Consequently, object-oriented techniques which promote modularity and code re-use have been employed throughout the design of this system to facilitate maintainance and future upgrading. This paper describes the task management architecture (TMA) - a configurable, pattern based object model defining the cognitive functionality of the RCS, the environment monitoring architecture (EMA) - a configurable, rule-based decision making paradigm and the use of our proprietary Java message system (JMS) communications architecture to control the telescope and associated instrumentation.