The international consortium, set up by ESA for the SpaceGRID study, is ready
to start work in mid September. The aim is to study how GRID applications
can benefit space science, Earth observation, space weather and spacecraft
engineering. Shortly after in October, two international meetings on the GRID
have been scheduled at different venues in Frascati, just outside Rome in

What is the GRID?

The idea behind it is simple. As very few people or organisations use the
full capacity of their computers’ processing power, the idea is to harness
this unused resource through the internet to solve major computational
problems that require far more ‘memory’ and computing power than that
available at any one site; rather in the same way that we plug into the
electricity grid to run an electrical appliance whenever needed.

A scaled-down version of this idea was first put into practice a year ago by
the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. By enlisting
the help of volunteers, they are able to ‘plug into’ the processing power
of millions of home computers to sift through radio signals to search for
messages from space.

Others have been quick to realise the enormous potential of this idea and
GRID projects have now been set up in many areas of the world. ESA has
started an internal GRID initiative to look into the possibilities of using
the GRID for a wide range of space applications and is also involved in
international GRID projects such as DataGRID, which is funded by the
European Union.


Dozens of satellites are constantly collecting data about our planetary
system — the Earth in particular — 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
Satellite data is used for many purposes, for example for telecommunications,
navigation systems and environmental monitoring. However, even with the most
powerful computers processing all this data is time-consuming and expensive.
Distributing these tasks over a number of low-cost internet-connected
platforms would provide enormous potential, at a relatively low cost, for
many space applications.

To look into this exciting possibility ESA is about to begin work on its
SpaceGRID project. This will be run by an international consortium of
industry and research centres led by Datamat (Italy) and including Alcatel
Space (France), CS Systemes d’Information (France), Science Systems Plc (UK)
and QuinetiQ (UK).

The project aims to assess how GRID technology can serve requirements across
a large variety of space disciplines, sketch the design of an ESA-wide GRID
infrastructure, foster collaboration and enable shared efforts across space
applications. It will analyse the highly complicated technical aspects of
managing, accessing, exploiting and distributing large amounts of data,
and set up test projects to see how well the GRID performs at carrying out
specific tasks in Earth observation, space weather, space science and
spacecraft engineering.

The results of the study should be available within 18 months, but meanwhile
ESA will be kept informed of the progress being made and project activities
will be synchronised with the ESA internal GRID initiative.

Two other aspects of this project are of particular importance for ESA:
finding a way to ensure that the data processed by the SpaceGRID can be
made available to public and educational establishments, and ensuring
that SpaceGRID activities are coordinated with other major international
initiatives. This is one reason why the October meetings of the DataGRID
and the Global Grid Forum are of particular interest to ESA.

October GRID meetings in Frascati

ESRIN, ESA’s European Space Research Institute, will host the Third DataGRID
Conference scheduled to take place from 3 to 5 October in Frascati, Italy.
DataGRID is designed to create a new worldwide data and computational GRID
for scientific exploration by sharing large-scale databases across a wide
range of scientific communities. One of its main objectives is to develop
and demonstrate the software, called ‘middleware’, needed to manage these
shared resources. It also coordinates national GRID projects in Europe to
ensure that everyone can use the same standards and talk the same ‘language’.

ESA is one of six partners in this project, which is funded by the European
Union and headed by CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.
ESA’s role in this €9.8 million project is to demonstrate the use of the
DataGRID for Earth observation.

The Global Grid Forum (GGF) will be hosted by the Italian National Institute
of Nuclear Physics at its national laboratories centre which is also in
Frascati, Italy. Starting on 7 October, this three-day meeting will discuss
GRID applications for science and industry as well as GRID standards and

The GGF is a forum of individual researchers working on grid technologies,
which came about through a merger of the Grid Forum, the eGrid European
Grid Forum and the Grid community in Asia and the Pacific. The last meeting,
which was held in Washington USA, was attended by 340 participants from 20
countries and 180 organisations.

GRID projects have enormous potential. They could provide scientists all
over the world with easy access to unprecedented levels of computing
resources and initiate a new era of science and scientific cooperation.
ESA’s SpaceGRID project is an important stepping stone in finding out how
this potential can be used within Europe for space applications.

Related News

* The European Space Agency helps develop the Grid, the next generation of
the World Wide Web

Related Links

* Earth Observation

* Third DataGRID Project Conference

* Global Grid Forum


[Image 1:]
Autumn in the New Forest, England. Photo:Graham Cooper.

[Image 2:]
ESA’s new SpaceGRID project starts in September 2001 and is scheduled for
completion in 18 months.

[Image 3:]
DataGrid Logo.

[Image 4:]
Global Grid Forum logo.