Data Flow System
In order to realize the optimal scientific return from the VLT, ESO has undertaken
to develop an end-to-end data flow system from proposal entry to science archive.
The VLT Data Flow System (DFS) is being designed and implemented by the DFS
Group (ESO Internal access only) in collaboration
with VLT Division and Instrumentation Division. The DFS
Group is part of the DMD division.
The major components of the DFS include:
Below you will find a brief summary of the
operational aspects and of the components of the DFS system.
More complete and up-to-date information can be found on
the DFS Group website (ESO Internal access only).
Some dfs related series of papers are also accessible
You will find an introduction to the
The operations model of the VLT allows PIs to apply for visitor-mode or
service-mode observation programs. The visitor mode corresponds
to the mode of operations that has prevailed until now in most
ground-based observatories: the visiting astronomer is physically
present at the telescope and can adapt the observation program to
specific target properties, changing observation conditions, or
calibration needs. The service-mode is inspired in its philosophy
from the operations of space-borne observation facilities like the
Hubble Space Telescope. The adaptation of that scheme to a ground-based
observatory of the dimension of the VLT makes it necessary to re-design
major parts of the operational concepts. The Data Flow System binds the
components involved in the observation life-cycle from observation
preparation and execution to processing and archiving.
The procedure for proposal preparation in the Data Flow system
involves a Phase I and a Phase II proposal preparation. In Phase I,
proposals are submitted electronically to ESO and evaluated
by the Observing Program Committee (OPC). After the OPC selection has
taken place, Phase II preparation is based on template forms
describing standard instrument modes and configurations. Observation Blocks
are created by specifying the template parameters, target information,
and user-defined scheduling constraints. The user will be assisted in
these phases by an Instrument Scientist and by observation preparation tools.
These tools include generic systems like finding chart generators
or guide star selection systems, and instrument related tools like
exposure time calculators (ETCs).
Feasibility checks of the proposals are performed by the observatory and
include technical feasibility and exposure time control.
During Phase 2 of the proposal preparation process, successful programs
convert their observing programs into structures which are schedulable and
executable by the VLT. These files are called Observation Blocks (OBs)
and combine together target and instrument data for one or more exposures
on typically a single astronomical object. The description of an
instrument within an OB is called a Template. A subset of instrument modes
and functions supported by ESO is presented as a template whose input
values are set by the astronomer during OB creation. All ESO instruments
under the DFS/VCS system will be operated via templates and OBs whether
in service or visitor mode. OBs are the quantum of data that flows within
the DFS, collecting state, data and status information as they flow.
When scheduling service mode observations, OBs represent the smallest
schedulable unit of telescope resources. OBs are submitted to an OB
Repository from which a medium term and short term schedule can be
constructed for service mode observations or from which a visiting
astronomer can schedule his/her nights' observations.
Observing Blocks contain instructions and data that can be executed by the
VLT Control System (VCS) and result in telescope movement, instrument
control and data being taken by VLT instruments. Completion status on
this execution is signaled to the DFS and data is stored on the on-line
The Science Archive stores all raw frames produced by the instruments,
as well as reference calibration data, and log files including
maintenance and ambient conditions logs. The Science Archive is available
to archive researchers and astronomers for catalog access and retrieval
of scientific data as they become available after the end of the proprietary
period, as well as retrieval of calibration, instrument data and logs as
soon as they have been processed and verified by the Data Flow Operations.
A subset of instrument modes is supported by Data
Pipelines that remove instrumental signatures and apply physical
unit calibrations. The Data Organizer assembles calibration and raw
data to be processed by the pipeline following analysis recipes
specified in a reduction block (RB). Data analysis recipes are scripts
written in a particular data reduction system and are the point were
the DFS makes contact with a particular DRS.
Every VLT instrument has a calibration plan which specifies a series
of data taking actions necessary to properly calibrate raw data and
monitor instrument performance. OBs corresponding to the calibration
observations are created by the Quality Control System. The resulting raw
data is processed by Quality Control and used to
repopulate the calibration data base, track instrument performance in
the short and long term and maintain the accuracy of instrument simulators.
Quality Control will
also define new technical programs for instruments and submit them for
telescope time approval. Quality Control also provides online systems
at the telescope to help data flow operations staff assess whether service
mode data has been taken under the conditions specified by the astronomer.
DFS Quality Control takes place at the VLT and in Garching using the
same pipeline infrastructure.
The first unit telescope of the VLT (UT1) saw first light on 25 May
1998 using the VLT test camera. During the remainder of 1998, the first
two VLT instruments (FORS and ISAAC) were commissioned. Science
operations on the first Unit Telescope (UT1, ANTU) commenced with both
instruments on 31 March, 1999.
Prototypes of the various components of the DFS were first tested on
ESO's New Technology Telescope. Hereafter the DFS
software was installed on the first Unit Telescope of the VLT (ANTU)
and commissioned. The DFS for ANTU commenced operations with the Call
for Proposals for the first VLT semester on 1 August, 1998.