At the conclusion of a successful project researchers often become custodians of large datasets of great potential value to the wider research community. Maintaining public access to such data was the challenge faced by the Space and Atmospheric Physics group at the end of the long-running and highly productive Cassini mission. After collecting data from two magnetometers on the probe over 19 years of operation the group held 2TB of data that was accessible only via an aging web application (MAGDA) reliant on legacy software and obsolete hardware. Due to funder requirements these data needed to be made readily accessible to the global space research community for many years to come.
An internal webserver and shared filesystem provided a means of accessing the data but were reliant on legacy software and obsolete hardware which were soon to be permanently retired. The Research Computing Service's RSE team were engaged by the Head of the Physics Department and the Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise) to develop a replacement system suitable for public release of the data. A key requirement was that the solution would be effective for time scales of 10+ years with only minimal maintenance. The team addressed this challenge by embracing open source technologies with well-established developer and user communities. A hardware independent solution was developed through use of containerisation so that the webserver can be hosted flexibly on virtual infrastructure and upgraded seamlessly.
Users of the new MAGDA system are able to browse and filter the available data by date range and numerous other attributes. Relevant data can then be visualised to identify interesting features and downloaded in a variety of formats. Completing this project required close collaboration to design a suitably intuitive and reliable user interface, and to produce informative visualisations of the data including comparison against numerical models.
Dr Richard Bantges, Scientific Project Manager, MAGDA:
"The scientific elements of this project precluded employing a contract web development team but the expertise of the Research Computing Service was a perfect fit. They quickly understood the problem at hand, rapidly prototyping web pages and visualisations for us to review. Without the help of RSE team we would have struggled to meet our commitment to maintain access to the Cassini mission data for the benefit of the global research community."