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Remote Observing with the Keck Telescope
Using the ACTS Satellite

Final Report for NASA Grant #BK-509-20-42-00-00

Judy Cohen[*], Patrick Shopbell[*],
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
Larry Bergman[*]
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

March 1, 1998

 \ \epsfbox{figures/abell963.eps} \\  \vskip 0.1in...
 ...s at a distance of approximately 3 billion
 light years from Earth.}\end{figure}


As a technical demonstration project for the NASA Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS), we have implemented remote observing on the 10-meter Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii from the California Institute of Technology campus in Pasadena. The data connection consists of optical fiber networks in Hawaii and California, connecting the end-points to high data rate (HDR) ACTS satellite antennae at JPL in Pasadena and at the Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu. The terrestrial fiber networks run the asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) protocol at DS-3 (45 Mbit/sec) speeds, providing ample bandwidth to enable remote observing with a software environment identical to that used for on-site observing in Hawaii.

This experiment has explored the data requirements of remote observing with a modern research telescope and large-format detector arrays. While the maximum burst data rates are lower than those required for many other applications (e.g., HDTV), the network reliability and data integrity requirements are critical. As we show in this report, the former issue particularly may be the greatest challenge for satellite networks for this class of application. We have also experimented with the portability of standard TCP/IP applications to satellite networks, demonstrating the need for alternative TCP congestion algorithms and minimization of bit error rates (BER).

Reliability issues aside, we have demonstrated that true remote observing over high-speed networks provides several important advantages over standard observing paradigms. Technical advantages of the high-speed network access include more rapid download of data to a user's home institution and the opportunity for alternative communication facilities between members of an observing team, such as audio- and videoconferencing. Scientific benefits include involving more members of observing teams while decreasing expenses, enhancing real-time data analysis of observations by persons not subject to altitude-related conditions, and providing facilities, expertise, and personnel not normally available at the observing site. Although the current bandwidth of the public Internet is insufficient for true remote observing between Hawaii and the mainland U.S., we nevertheless anticipate a growing role for remote observing techniques, particularly as high-speed terrestrial networking paradigms, such as ATM, become more commonly available.

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Patrick Shopbell