The Evolution of ALMA Proposal and Observation Preparation

Principal Investigator: Alan Bridger

Institute: Science and Technology Facilities Council, United Kingdom


The ALMA Observatory aims to make observing easy for end-users and to ensure that it is open to the entire astronomy community. A key part of this aim is the ALMA Observing Tool (OT), which ensures that proposal and observing preparation for ALMA are as simple as is possible. In the age of the web, tablets and smartphones, of cloud computing and storage, and with internet access almost universal the way people interact with computers is changing rapidly. To remain “easy to use” in 5-15 years’ time the ALMA Observatory must evolve to keep pace with these changes. As the Observatory’s main user interface to the astronomy community the ALMA OT must be at the forefront of this evolution. Furthermore, as software technologies continue to evolve rapidly the technological context in which the tool resides changes, rendering some of its components obsolete and expensive to maintain.

The purpose of this study is to review the current state of the OT and propose development work to make it ready for ALMA in the 2020-2030 timescale. The study will evaluate the current usability and the technologies used by the tool in the future context of observing with ALMA, and identify the best approaches to updating and improving the tool meeting current and future requirements. The study will be divided into three main parts:

  1. Capture of current and future usability requirements;
  2. Analysis of these and elaboration of the conceptual design presented in this document;
  3. Prototyping to de-risk the more challenging areas of the design and provide a basis for future development efforts.

The study will be led from the UK ATC, Edinburgh (part of the UK’s STFC), and involve effort from the European Regional Centre at ESO, and from the ESO ALMA Computing team. Collaborations with other groups researching the same areas (in particular from NRAO and the SKA project) will be developed. Volunteers from the community will be sought for help with usability studies.