In the context of the present work, we discuss several fundamental issues originating from the work already performed in the scope of the Discovery Space (DSpace) Research Project, founded by the European eTEN Work Program. The Project has been awarded as the “Project of the Month - November, 2006” and the “second best European research activity” in the scope of e-learning thematic activities (http://www. discoveryspace.net/). The prime purpose of the work was the development of a virtual science center, able to integrate robotic telescopes from all over the world into one “virtual observatory” through a proper Web-based interface, to provide an automated scheduling of the telescopes to end-users (i.e., students, teachers, and researchers) and access to a library of data and resources for lifelong learners. Potential users can benefit from professional-quality data from their local sites, using modern broadband (Internet-based) facilities (European Commission, 2002). Following the echo from the market request for more cost-effective and compelling applications to be delivered over the currently-launched broadband networks supporting the expansion of the global information society (The European Survey of National Priorities in Astronomy, 2004), the relevant service application aimed to take advantage of the convenience of the high-speed Internet access to involve its various users (originating from distinct thematic categories) in extended episodes of playful learning. The basic issue was the creation and presentation, to the market, of an entirely interoperable worldwide service, able to support options for further enhancement of e-learning facilities for teachers, students, researchers, and other practitioners. The approach has been considered the existing Internet-based facilities as the basis to “transform the today’s classroom to a research laboratory” and to develop further the European e-learning market (Chochliouros & Spiliopoulou, 2004; Danish Technological Institute, 2004).
Background: Robotic Telescopes For Educational Purposes
A Broadband (Internet-Based) Virtual Network
The primary target of the entire research effort of the “D-Space” Project was to investigate the technical feasibility and the business case of the online use of a specific thematic set of applications, mainly developed for educational (and informative) purposes with the aim of providing users with the possibility to remotely utilize controlled robotic telescopes (in “almost-real-time” application), accessible “at all times from everybody from everywhere” (Solomos, Polykalas, Arageorgis, Fanourakis, Makroyannaki, Hatzilau, Koukos, Mavrogonatos, 2001).
The corresponding approach has thus suggested the “creation” of a “virtual science thematic park” comprising several distributed robotic telescopes, together with an interactive, constrain-based scheduling service, extended databases of scientific data and other variable resource archives. Consequently, the proposed service takes advantage of the tremendous synergistic potential of an international “virtual network” consisting of professional-grade, remotely-accessible observatories, adequately interconnected via modern infrastructures and related facilities (Chochliouros & Spiliopoulou, 2005).
The suggested application is already cooperating with five telescopes located in various European countries and Israel. During the current stage, the two telescopes of the Skinakas Observatory (located on the Ida mountain in Central Crete, Greece), the Liverpool Telescope (the largest robotic telescope in the world located on the island of La Palma in the Canaries), the Ellinogermaniki Agogi Telescope (located in the area of Attica-Athens, in Greece) and the Sea of Galilee Observatory (located in Israel), can be remotely operated by educators, students, researchers, visitors of science museums and science thematic parks, as well as the wider, interested public, according to their scheduled availability. In the near future, more telescopes will enter the “network” to extend the opportunities that are offered. A prerequisite for the proper functioning is the assurance of continuous Internet access, available at a speed of at least 1.5Mbit/s. The entire system has to possess enough computing power to handle Web interfaces, File Transfer Protocol servers, and storage space for images and logs (Sotiriou & Vagenas, 2004).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Telescope: A telescope is basically a device that collects light. The bigger the surface of the primary mirror, the more photons can be collected. Selection of the telescope for a requested observation will be mainly based on: (i) limiting magnitude of the specific telescope in the requested filter; (ii) field of view; (iii) duration of observation; and (iv) visibility of the target. The telescope control system automatically corrects focus variations as a result of temperature changes, based on previously-obtained calibration data.
Master Control System (MCS): For each robotic telescope, this system comprises a set of hardware, software, and communication units, responsible for the management and operation of the telescope.
Data Analysis: The process of systematically applying statistical and logical techniques to describe, summarize, and compare data; it is the process by which the data requirements of a functional area are identified, element by element. Each data element is defined from a business sense, its ownership is identified, and users and sources of that data are identified. These data elements are grouped into records, and a data structure is created which indicates the data dependencies.
Internet: A worldwide system of interconnected computer networks; the Internet is a combination of several media technologies and an electronic version of newspapers, magazines, books, catalogs, bulletin boards, and much more. This versatility gives the Internet its power. The Internet’s technological success depends on its principal communication tools, the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP). They are referred to frequently as TCP/IP.
Interoperability Framework: Not simply a purely technical issue concerned with linking up various systems, but the “wider” set of policies, measures, standards, practices and guidelines describing the way in which various organizations have agreed, or should agree, to do business with each other
Broadband Communications: Term characterizing both digital and analogue transmission systems; broadband communications is generally understood to indicate either a fast data-rate digital system or a wide bandwidth analogue system.
E-Learning: The delivery of a learning, training, or education program by electronic means; e-learning involves the use of a computer or electronic device (e.g., a mobile phone) in some way to provide training, educational, or learning material. E-learning can involve a greater variety of equipment than online training or education, for as the name implies, “online” involves using the Internet or an Intranet. CD-ROM and DVD can be used to provide learning materials.