AARNet provides runway for space discovery

With the space industry still gleaming over the successful Huygens probe landing on Saturn's Titan earlier this month, Australia's Academic Research Network (AARNet) has revealed how it played a key role in the transmission of data from local telescopes to international researchers.

Radio telescopes in NSW, South Australia, and Tasmania are part of a group of 17 around the globe charged with collectively observing radio transmissions from the Huygens probe.

Data was transferred from the radio telescopes to the Netherlands via Sydney, Seattle, and New York at a rate of some 400Mbps.

George McLaughlin, AARNet's director of international development, said the plan was to send several terabytes of data, but the first run was 100GB.

"AARNet has 10Gbps capacity between Australian capital cities and across the Pacific [so] we have more activated capacity than just about anyone else," McLaughlin told Computerworld.

To ensure utmost data integrity and a minimum amount of data loss, the path set up was essentially clear channel.

"And the concept of user controlled lightpaths ensures no interference from other network users," McLaughlin said, adding that this doesn't protect against flaws in the end equipment.

In addition to determining the position of the probe to within a kilometre by correlating data from all the telescopes, the experiment also demonstrated the ability to set up a lightpath that goes halfway around the world and to achieve results in very short timeframes compared to flying the data, McLaughlin said.

"This shows the direction this is going and the success of this has been acknowledged by the senior people in NASA and the European Space Agency," he said.

AARNet is now working with members of the local astronomy community to provide gigabit capacity directly to the telescopes, and with the University of Hawaii, Southern Cross Cable Network, and other members of the international astronomy community to connect the telescope complex at Mauna Kea in Hawaii to form the basis of a global astronomy initiative.

McLaughlin said the many international research institutions are collaborating "very, very well" on the project of great scale.

"There was great enthusiasm to make this happen, and everyone just rolled up their sleeves and got on with it," he said.

For the future, McLaughlin said with applications such as these even AARNet's capacity is likely to be increased.

"Last year people thought that we wouldn't fill 10Gbps pipes in the foreseeable future," he said. "Now we have single applications between two points that run at 1.4Gbps; seven running simultaneously would saturate a 10Gbps link."

Within Australia, McLaughlin said, we have the fibre, so more capacity simply depends on equipping the fibre; however, "undersea cable is another matter".

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