Science operations, data acquisition and data management

»The Observatory will generate hundreds of petabytes (PB) of data in a year (~3 PB after compression).«

The Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO) would not work without software, powerful computers and vast amounts of storage required to combine and process what the individual telescopes capture into usable scientific results. The challenge faced by the CTAO Computing Department is to design and implement a system that supports everything from accepting observation proposals to scheduling observations, controlling the telescopes, processing and archiving the data at all levels and disseminating data products and science tools to the public using open standards and FAIR (findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability) principles. 


Because such a computing system does not exist as a stand-alone product, the work of the Computing Department covers all steps from architectural design to construction, validation, deployment and maintenance. The technical challenges and long lifetime of the Observatory will necessitate the development and adoption of new techniques and technologies to meet the scientific demands. Even when built, long-term maintenance will not be simple: the software and hardware systems will need to be operated over the thirty-year lifetime of the Observatory, and the science data archive will continue to be operated for a further ten years after that. This means software systems engineering activities are as important as the code itself. 


Since much of the software will be developed by diverse and dispersed teams from the CTAO’s institution and industrial partners, this requires the coordination and release of a wide range of in-kind, in-house and externally developed contributions. With the fundamental principle of “Several Sites – One Observatory,” the software will not be specific to a particular site but will form a series of distributed and centrally coordinated systems. 


The Computing Department will coordinate with several off-site data centre partners for its data processing and simulation needs and is directly responsible for the installation of the on-site data centres and control rooms at the two array sites. It will manage these activities centrally from the Science Data Management Centre (SDMC), which will be located in a new building complex on the DESY campus in Zeuthen, just outside Berlin. 

The telescopes on the two CTAO array sites will produce data of many hundreds of petabytes (PB) per year. They will be written after compression to a few PB per year to the off-site data centres for processing and storage. Additionally, a few tens of PB of simulated data will be produced and processed. The data will be further reduced to science-ready data products of a few TB per year, that are then delivered to the science users for analysis. 


A schematic view of the control, data flows and computing environment is shown in the figure below.

»A workforce of a hundred software experts over five years is needed to build the software systems.«

The Computing Department is working to develop a package of hardware and software products to support this flow of data:


Software systems:
  • Array Control and Data Acquisition System (ACADA)
  • Data Processing and Preservation System (DPPS)
  • Science User Support System (SUSS)
  • Science Operations Support System (SOSS)


Hardware systems:
  • On-Site Information and Communications Technology (On-site ICT)
  • Array Clock System
  • Off-Site Information and Communications Technology (Off-site ICT)


Read more about these systems in the sections below.


The overview diagram below illustrates how the different systems interact with the primary processes behind the Observatory’s science operations: the submission, execution and return of processed data associated with a scientific proposal.

Software Systems


The Computing Department software will be responsible for a wide range of duties, from managing the observation proposal lifecycle and controlling the telescopes and array elements on site to the processing and long-term preservation of data and providing the user support and tools for data access and analysis. The below systems are in development to manage these responsibilities.

ACADA – Array Control and Data Acquisition System


The ACADA encompasses all the software responsible for the supervision and control of telescopes and calibration instruments at both CTAO array sites, including the efficient execution of scheduled and dynamically triggered observation. The system will manage the data acquisition and compression of the raw data, as well as the generation of automatic science alerts. The ACADA also provides the user interface for the site operators and astronomers. Its sub-systems are as follows: 


  • Resource Manager 
  • Central Control 
  • Human-Machine Interface 
  • Array Data Handler 
  • Science Alert Generation Pipeline 
  • Short-Term Scheduler 
  • Transients Handler 
  • Monitoring and Logging Systems 
  • Array Alarm System 
  • Array Configuration System 
  • Reporting System 


DPPS – Data Processing and Preservation System


The main purpose of the DPPS is to transform raw data products generated by ACADA into science-ready data products appropriate for science analysis, which are delivered to the SUSS for dissemination. It must ensure that all data products are preserved (replicated to at least two off-site data centres), of traceable and reproducible provenance and of the highest scientific quality. The latter is achieved by planning for the periodic re-processing of all data using updated techniques. The DPPS also provides continuous monitoring and quality reporting for its sub-systems and produces high-level science quality metrics and reports related to the services provided. The DPPS will be implemented as a distributed system, deployed as a set of data processing and preservation nodes operated by the SDMC, which will run at the CTAO-North and CTAO-South on-site data centres, as well as at all off-site data centres. The DPPS sub-systems are as follows: 


  • Operations Management System 
  • Computing Workload Management System 
  • Bulk Archive and File Transfer Management System 
  • Data Processing Pipeline System 
  • Calibration Production Pipeline System 
  • Data Quality Pipeline System 
  • Simulation Production Pipeline System 
  • Common Software Frameworks 


SUSS – Science User Support System


The SUSS manages the software systems for the high-level science operations workflows, from proposals to data delivery and user support, and is the main access point for the exchange of science-related products with the science users. It also provides the software for the observation planning with long-term to mid-term schedules, for the automatic generation and verification of high-level science data products, the Science Archive, the Science Analysis Tools, the User Support systems, and the Science Portal through which the software applications, services, data and software products are accessible. The SUSS sub-systems are as follows: 


  • Proposal Handling 
  • Long-Term and Mid-Term Scheduling 
  • Automatic Data Product Preparation and Verification 
  • Science Analysis Tools 
  • Science Archive 
  • Science Portal 
  • Help Desk and User Support 
  • Reporting/Diagnosis 



SOSS – Science Operations Support System


The SOSS is a collection of software tools that support the systems involved in science operations workflows, such as ACADA, DPPS and SUSS. It allows the respective systems to access and share science operations-related information and configurations. It includes the means to track the state of the proposals and observations throughout their life cycle and the state of the CTAO throughout the science operations workflow and science performance.

»Approximately 2000 state-of-the-art computer cores are required to handle data online.«

Hardware Systems


ICT – Information and Communications Technology


The ICT work packages are responsible for the on-site data centres, networks, the data transfer and the coordination of the off-site data centres. The on-site ICT systemensures that the required computing resources and network capacityare available to support all operations at both array sites. It will provide the interface between all array elements, including the telescopes and the data centres. Monitoring this infrastructure is key to ensuring high performance, of which cyber security is an important feature. The off-site ICT system coordinates with the four off-site data centres, which will operate CTAO software systems and data storage to build a coherent CTAO computing infrastructure. 


Array Clock System


In order to combine the data from the many different and highly distributed CTAO array elements (telescopes, weather stations, etc.), they must be correlated in time. Successful association of these data requires sufficiently accurate and precise timestamping mechanisms, as well as a stable and accurate reference time source at each of the two array sites. Providing such a time source, together with its distribution, is the task of the Array Clock System.



For each of the systems described above, there is a work package that comprises all the personnel and activities needed for the systems’ realization, integration and maintenance. The CTAO Computing Department is growing to meet the Observatory’s needs in constructing the CTAO software products, establishing the necessary computing infrastructure for CTAO’s data management and organizing the support for observation planning, data processing and simulations, data archiving and science user support. The organigram of the Computing Department is shown here:

Computing Contacts:

CTA Computing Coordinator: Stefan Schlenstedt

ACADA Work Package Coordinator: Igor Oya

DPPS Work Package Coordinator: Karl Kosack

SUSS/SOSS Work Package Coordinator: Matthias Füßling

Off-site ICT Coordinator: Nadine Neyroud