The ESO User Support Department

The User Support Department (USD) of the ESO Data Management and Operations Division is based in Garching bei München, Germany. Its main activities consist in providing support to users of ESO facilities, in particular through the ESO Data Flow System:

  • Support for Phase 1 proposal preparation, mainly concerning technical questions on instruments, strategies, etc. at the time of writing observing proposals;
  • Support, review and optimization during the preparation of Phase 2 material. The purpose is to ensure that the material submitted by the users for the execution of their programmes is compliant with the principles of Service Mode observing and with the Service Mode guidelines, and that the observing strategy is both efficient and adequate for the scientific goals;
  • Maintenance of a Web-based Service Mode status information service, where users can obtain up-to-date information on the progress of their Service Mode programmes.
  • Operation of a helpdesk system ( where users can address questions and request assistance on all aspects of ESO telescope Service Mode operations.

It also provides assistance to Science Operations Teams at ESO's observatories in the areas of:

  • Program mid-term scheduling and tracking services;
  • Providing a link between the observatory and the users when actions are needed during the execution of service mode programmes;
  • Interfacing between the observatory and the Data Flow Operations Department for data release.
  • On-site assistance for the execution of Service Mode programmes.

The User Support Department currently provides support for all the instruments available at the VLT and VLTI (Paranal), as well as for the surveys and open time observations on VISTA and VST. Users having obtained Visitor Mode time at the La Silla telescopes (NTT, 3.6m and 2.2 m telescope) should contact the La Silla Science Operations Group directly.

The User Support Department is headed by Francesca Primas. The USD Phase 1 and Phase 2 support for the VLT/VLTI, VISTA and VST instruments is distributed among the USD staff astronomers as follows (in alphabetical order with the main astronomer responsible in bold):

  • AMBER: Christian Hummel, Markus Wittkowski
  • CRIRES: Michael Hilker, Elena Valenti, Mario van den Ancker
  • FLAMES: Nadine Neumayer, John Pritchard
  • FORS2: Neale Gibson, Christian Hummel, Mirko Krumpe, Nadine Neumayer, John Pritchard, Mario van den Ancker
  • HAWK-I: Elena Valenti, Monika Petr-Gotzens
  • KMOS: Michael Hilker, Nadine Neumayer
  • MIDI: Christian Hummel, Markus Wittkowski
  • NACO: Lowell Tacconi-Garman, Elena Valenti
  • OMEGACAM: Michael Hilker, Monika Petr-Gotzens
  • SINFONI: Vincenzo Mainieri, Elena Valenti, Markus Wittkowski, Mario van den Ancker
  • UVES: Christian Hummel, John Pritchard
  • VIMOS: Michael Hilker, Vincenzo Mainieri, Monika Petr-Gotzens, Marina Rejkuba
  • VIRCAM: Michael Hilker, Monika Petr-Gotzens, Marina Rejkuba
  • VISIR: Christian Hummel, Mario van den Ancker
  • X-SHOOTER: Nadine Neumayer, Vincenzo Mainieri, John Pritchard, Markus Wittkowski

The USD operations support scientists, Stéphane Marteau and Sangeeta Mysore, are responsible for a variety of operations tasks, including maintaining the Service Mode run status pages, managing the USD helpdesk (, maintaining the external report and verification modules of the Phase 2 Preparation Tool (P2PP), and preparing the distribution packages of P2PP and other observation preparation tools. Angelika Beller is taking care of travel arrangements for visiting astronomers.