AstroGrid Project History and Key Documents

Project Conception

AstroGrid has its origins in the Long Term Science Reviews (LTSR) undertaken by PPARC in 1999/2000, which placed IT initiatives in astronomy in general, and large database initiatives in particular, as high priorities in all the panel areas. (Similar ideas were developing across Europe and the US, and for example construction of a US "National Virtual Observatory" was recommended by the NAS decadal review). Meanwhile e-science and the Grid played a large part in Government thinking during the 2000 spending review, and an AstroGrid project concept developed by astronomers from Leicester, Cambridge Edinburgh and RAL was used by PPARC in its bid. A "white paper" on AstroGrid was reviewed by PPARC Astronomy Committee in October 2000, and debated around the community. The result was an expansion of the consortium to seven institutions, and an increased remit to cover solar and solar-terrestrial physics as well as optical, IR, X-ray and radio astronomy. A formal proposal was submitted to the PPARC e-science AO in April 2001.

First AstroGrid Project

AstroGrid began funded work in September 2001. Initial funding was for a one-year Phase A study, which was extended to the end of December 2004, following review of the Phase A report by PPARC's Grid Steering Committee. During 2001 we set up News and Forum sites (now defunct) and one of the very first wikis to be used for a science project. The wiki is still there (but something of an impenetrable thicket), and contains for example records of consortium meetings, management meetings, oversight committee meetings, and meetings of the Science Advisory Group which we set up. During 2001-2004 some of the key technology was created, and a prototype user interface, using a web portal.


The second AstroGrid project began in Jan 2005, and was aimed at constructing properly engineered components. The main rate-limiting factor in doing this was international development of VO standards. We also switched to a Java based user interface - the AstroGrid Workbench. By partway through 2006 this was good enough for ordinary astronomers to use, and so we released a sequence of prototypes, and ran workshops at which users tried out the software. This was a crucial learning experience, and led to a radical overhaul of the user interface design during 2007, leading to current "VO Desktop" concept, combined with TOPCAT, Aladin, and Python scripting. During 2007 the maturity and stability of the background software and services also improved dramatically, and so it became clear that by early 2008 we would be ready for a proper user system. During this second project, we also converged on a successful method of planning and management, with six month "cycle plans" set in the context of an overall "lifetime plan".

AstroGrid Operations Phase

In 2006 we proposed a five year operational service project to PPARC. In April 2007 this was approved by PPARC for an initial two year period, with longer term operations subject to review. (This was eminently as the proposal was reviewed quite a long time before our operational system was ready.) Our released system was launched at the UK National Astronomy Meeting in Belfast in April 2008, including these web pages, and has been updated since. Over two thousand copies of VO desktop have been downloaded, and the Registry gets hit with queries about once every thirty seconds.

Related European Projects

The AstroGrid team have been a part of several successive European projects, working especially with colleagues at CDS, ESO, ESA, and INAF : AVO, VOTECH, DCA, and currently AIDA. In particular the VOTECH project was led by AstroGrid, and has been the core effort in developing shared technology for Euro-VO. VOTECH has produced a series of reports which can be found on the VOTECH twiki. (They will soon be moved to a permanent static web site).

Beyond AstroGrid

During 2008, as part of its programmatic review, STFC decided reluctantly to close the AstroGrid project slightly earlier than originally planned, despite very vigorous international support during the consultation phase. This simply means that we will be completing and documenting the software earlier than originally planned for release and use by others. STFC are however well aware of the need for a good data management infrastructure, and the need for continuing VO development was a priority in the Astronet Roadmap. Partners across Europe are committed to the concept of a Euro VO Technology Centre (VOTC), and expecting the UK to take the lead in this.

Now that VO technology has matured, the next stage is for astronomical facilities, missions, and data centres to deploy and adapt the technology to produce what they need for their own users, and to club together to continue shared technology developments. An alliance of 30 facilities and projects have come together to propose such a VOTC:UK, submitting a Statement of Interest to STFC.


AstroGrid website is hosted at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Edinburgh  -  last updated: 15-Aug-2012