The Europlanet Society Joins the International Planetary Data Alliance
Stéphane Erard (Observatoire de Paris) reports on Europlanet’s participation in international consortia that manage access to planetary data.
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For over a decade, Europlanet has supported the development of VESPA, a Virtual Observatory for planetary data. VESPA has adapted and built on existing concepts and tools from the Astronomy Virtual Observatory and tailored them for Solar System data. EPN-TAP, the VESPA data access protocol, has been a major development in providing access to multiple planetary datasets from space missions, ground-based observations, simulations and experimental work.
The impact of VESPA relies to a large extent on how well it is integrated with data infrastructures and the international consortia that manage access to data in planetary science. This was significantly enhanced in autumn 2020 when the Europlanet Society, represented by the VESPA coordinator, became a full member of the International Planetary Data Alliance (IPDA).
The IPDA brings together mostly national and international space agencies, with the aim of improving access to planetary science data and archives. Founded in 2006, the IPDA has developed a de facto standard for archiving planetary space data, NASA’s Planetary Data System version 4 (PDS4).
Since 2009, VESPA has participated in the IPDA Technical Expert Group, presenting its own developments to space agencies and developing many fruitful connections. In particular, ESA’s Planetary Science Archive (PSA) installed an EPN-TAP interface in 2017, making its full content accessible through the VESPA portal, but also through general Virtual Observatory tools e.g. Jupyter notebooks and workflow platforms. In parallel, an EPN-TAP PDS4 dictionary has been written to facilitate future interactions with NASA Planetary Data System tools.
As a new member of the IPDA steering committee, the Europlanet Society attended its first meeting in December 2020 and full virtual meetings in February and March, organised by the Indian space agency (ISRO). Important current objectives for the IPDA are to provide access to derived data, which are not usually available in space agency archives, and also fully open access to data related to publications in authors’ institutes. In addition to being a working project of the IPDA, the EPN-TAP protocol is currently in the final validation phase to become an International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA) standard, and members of the VESPA management team chair the IVOA Solar System Interest Group. Similar validations are also in progress with the Heliophysics International Data Alliance and Research Data Alliance.
For more information on VESPA, see: http://www.europlanet-vespa.eu