Work In Progress


Planetary Data Environment: Vision for 2026


NASA's missions of solar system exploration have thrilled the public and rewritten textbooks. The data and samples returned by these missions are unique because of the long time scales over which exploration is conducted; the relatively small number of missions launched each decade; and the sparse time sampling at any one target.  Archived data and curated samples must be accessible to current researchers, preserved for future generations, and protected against corruption, contamination, and loss.  The researchers who conduct planetary exploration today will not be available when some data or samples are accessed for additional studies in the future.

Data and samples are currently maintained by five separate projects:

1.      The Planetary Data System (PDS) serves as NASA's current, accumulating archive of data returned by (mostly robotic) missions of Solar System exploration.  PDS staff work closely with missions to help the mission teams meet or surpass their archiving responsibilities.

2.      The Astromaterials Curation Facility (ACF) at NASA's Johnson Space Center stores, curates, studies, and distributes all returned samples and some space-exposed hardware.  ACF personnel working closely with missions that involve sample return to insure that return and recovery of samples meet mission requirements.

3.      The Minor Planets Center (MPC) is responsible for the designation of minor bodies in the Solar System, in conjunction with the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT); and natural satellites (also in conjunction with CBAT). The MPC is also responsible for the efficient collection, computation, checking and dissemination of astrometric observations and orbits for minor planets and comets.

4.      The Planetary Cartography Program (PCP) managed for NASA by the USGS Astrogeology Science Center develops and maintains a cartographic capability in support of NASA's missions and advises NASA on planetary mapping.

5.      The NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive (NSSDCA) provides multidiscipline data and information services, including a large digital data archive from past NASA space science missions along with directories, catalogs, and access to widely distributed science data resources. The NSSDCA is responsible for the long term archiving and preservation of all space science data.

Currently, these five projects often work together on specific missions, but there is no formal structure to encourage close coordination or to develop common standards and practices where these are required.

By 2026, these five projects will be connected into a single information environment. This does not mean that any one project will report to another but that all the projects are seamlessly connected: a user may start at the MPC, find a Near-Earth Object of interest, seamlessly query the PDS and NSSDCA for any spectral data available, request the creation of a coarse-grained spectral signature and then use that signature to search the ACF for related meteorites.   PDS data will be able to be translated on the fly and basic computations will be able to be requested (such as the extraction of a "signature" from a group of spectra).

As NASA moves forward in providing open access to the products of its funded research, the information environment will expand to encompass publications and publication databases allowing for users to access maps, for example, on which a published result depends or download orbit estimates for objects described in a Minor Planets Circular.

The envisioned environment would also include customizable tools for the creation of mission data pipelines and the automated validation and submission of data products to the PDS. Such an approach could reduce mission costs and ingestion costs to the PDS.  Such pipelines would also allow rough versions of mission data to be made available to the public almost as soon as they are downlinked.