Space science missions are a lot like smartphones. News apps and operating systems may not be compatible with older hardware and vice-versa.

Different data processing protocols of individual space missions has limited comparison of data from numerous space missions. Due to the complexity of space exploration, instruments and devices are usually purpose-made and data acquisition as well as number crunching tools are built using mission specific data structures and protocols. The downside: the exchange and comparison of observational data between missions and complex computational models developed by third parties are virtually impossible.

A newly developed framework caled IMPEx allows scientists to better understand complex observational data, to fill gaps in observations with computer simulated data and to compare observations and simulations. First applications of the IMPEx tools allowed detailed comparisons of observational data from Venus Express (ESA) and Messenger (NASA) orbiting Mercury with existing simulation models. 

There are already some initiatives which try to overcome this diversity of data formats by defining standards for specific physical branches. IMPEx helps by extending the data model SPASE (Space Physics Archive Search and Extract) to the area of computational modeling. In establishing the IMPEx portal, the user front-end of the IMPEx protocol, the group was able to provide a single point of access to an impressive set of functionalities that offer a comprehensive toolset to work with different observational and modelled data in the field of plasma physics.

The starting point for data processing within the IMPEx portal is the CDPP AMDA (Automated Multi-Dataset Analysis) tool. AMDA offers processing of data by providing simple access and easy-to-use data mining functionalities. It is dedicated to the analysis and visualization of observational and simulation data with a focus on space plasma physics. Another powerful IMPEx enabled tool is CDPP 3DView; with its massive 3D-visualization capabilities it offers the possibility of displaying spacecraft trajectories, planetary ephemerides as well as scientific representations of observational and simulation datasets. In fact, all IMPEx databases are directly feeding into 3DView, enabling an interactive combination of spacecraft orbits with their in-situ measurements and simulation data.


Recently, 3DView already delivered impressive results when observational magnetic field data of the Venus Express mission were compared to a specific magnetospheric simulation model. Indeed, this comparison showed the entire power of the IMPEx protocol. The IMPEx partner FMI – Finnish Meteorological Institute – developed a Hybrid simulation database that allows for simulation runs of the Venus magnetic field environment. Selected simulation runs could be stored and further processed within the IMPEx portal environment.

The simulation run was interpolated onto the trajectory of the Venus Express orbiter and the in-situ measurements could be compared with the simulation. Finally, both datasets – the in-situ measurements and the simulation – could be visualized in 3DView, directly on the trajectory of Venus Express. A similar comparison was also done with observational magnetic field data of Mercury, obtained by the Messenger mission. Using IMPEx web services, simulations where interpolated onto the trajectory of the spacecraft and 3DView rendered the results.

The FP7-Project IMPEx (Integrated Medium for Planetary Exploration) is supported by the European Union Grant agreement number 262863.

IMPEx core team:
Maxim Khodachenko (Coordinator), IWF, Austria
Esa Kallio (Deputy Coordinator), FMI, Finland
Vincent Génot (Project Scientist), CNRS/IRAP, France
Igor Alexeev (Work Package Leader), SINP-MSU, Russia
Tarek Al-Ubaidi (Project Manager and IT Expert) , IWF, Austria
Michel Gangloff (Work Package Leader), CNRS/IRAP, France
Walter Schmidt (Work Package Leader), FMI, Finland
Ronan Modolo (Task Leader), CNRS/LATMOS, France
Manuel Scherf (Scientific user support and validation), IWF, Austria