Tracing Phobos’ Eclipses on the Cloud

Next year, the Mars MetNet Mission which is formed by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), Lavochkin Association (LA), the Russian Space Research Institute (IKI) and Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA), will launch its first probe to planet Mars. The objective of this mission is to establish the next generation observation network for studying its atmosphere, representing this first probe the first “Martian weather station” of many that will come.

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Logo of Mars MetNet Mission

One of the aspects to take into account during the probe operational lifetime are the effects of Phobos‘ eclipses. Phobos, one of the two Martian moons, orbits at approximately 9,000 Km from Mars, being its period 7 hours and 39.2 minutes. The prediction of each eclipse is important for the onboard instruments and it evidently depends on the landing coordinates, which won’t be exactly known until few hours before.

For this reason, an application has been developed at the Faculty of Mathematics of Universidad Complutense de Madrid, which traces Phobos’ trajectories given the coordinates and the required time.  Execution times were too high to consider traditional computing solutions, but the tracing period could be divided at will. This way, the problem could be parameterized and the resulting distributed application, executed on the Cloud.

Answering the question of which and how many resources must be instantiated on a public cloud to obtain a compromise between the time and cost, a valid model for executing this application on Amazon EC2 has been formulated. Depending on the required simulation time, the model returns the best task tracing period along with the number and type of virtual machines.

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Phobos' eclipse caught by NASA's rover Opportunity

As a result of this collaboration, the present work has been accepted for its presentation under the title “A Model for Efficient Onboard Actualization of an Instrumental Cyclogram for the Mars MetNet Mission on a Public Cloud Infrastructure” at the PARA2010: State of the Art in Scientific and Parallel Computing Conference, that will be held in Reykavík (Iceland) on June 6-9, 2010.

From similar stories, it seems that Cloud Computing is aiming beyond the clouds.

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