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Remote observing with the Keck Telescope from California using NASA's ACTS satellite

P. L. Shopbella, J. G. Cohena, and L. Bergmanb

a California Institute of Technology, Mail Stop 105-24, Pasadena, CA 91125 USA

b Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mail Stop 525-3660, Pasadena, CA 91109 USA


As a technical demonstration project for the NASA Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS), we have implemented remote observing on the 10-meter Keck II telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii from the California Institute of Technology campus in Pasadena. The data connection consists of ATM networks in Hawaii and California, running at OC-1 speeds (51 Mbit/sec) through optical fiber, and high data rate (HDR) satellite antennae at JPL in Pasadena and at the Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu. The ACTS network provides sufficient bandwidth to enable true remote observing, with a software environment identical to that used for on-site observing.

In this paper, we demonstrate that while the satellite link introduces a number of difficulties and decreases overall reliability of the system, remote observing is not only feasible, but provides several important advantages over standard observing paradigms. Benefits include involving more members of observing teams while decreasing expenses, enhancing real-time data analysis of observations by persons not subject to altitude-related conditions, and providing facilities, expertise, and personnel not normally available at the observing site. Although the current bandwidth of the public Internet is insufficient for true remote observing, we nevertheless anticipate a growing role for remote observing techniques, particularly as high-speed terrestrial networking paradigms, such as ATM, become more commonly available.

Keywords: remote observing, Keck Observatory, ACTS, satellite communications, ATM

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Patrick Shopbell