Creating a 3D map that includes billions of stars in our galaxy is a great achievement. It takes decades of hard work from the brightest scientific minds on the planet. And it requires data. Lots of data. Whether it is mapping out the Milky Way or landing on a comet or looking for life on Mars, scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) need to reliably access large amounts of data to explore the universe and share their findings with the world.

On September 30, 2016, we were able to see live the ESA Rosetta spacecraft landing on the surface of a comet. For more than two years, the ship had traveled with the comet, near its orbit, in order to collect data. But if the comet continued to move away from the Sun at a speed of 120,000 km / h, the Rosetta spacecraft would soon run out of solar energy. Scientists seized the opportunity to try what had never been attempted before: to obtain unique observations through a controlled impact on the comet.

Despite the extreme velocities and countless unknowns, the ship landed only 33 m from the target point and sent high-resolution images and priceless data to Earth.

The questions of the cosmos

Rosetta is just one of the many missions of ESA’s science program, which aims to explore the universe and deepen its understanding. How did galaxies form in the early universe? Has there ever been life on Mars? Could humans inhabit the icy moons of Jupiter? What do asteroids represent a threat to the Earth?

Currently, ESA focuses on what may be its most ambitious mission: Gaia. Thanks to the Gaia spacecraft, ESA is creating the world’s most accurate 3D map of the Milky Way. Gaia will catalog one billion of the 100 billion stars in our galaxy. During the process, it will produce 10,000 times more data than previous missions and process an average of 70 billion observations per day. The complete Gaia catalog is expected to contain more than 2 PB of data.

Scalability and Reliability Crucial to Mission

To carry out this project and all its scientific missions, ESA needs absolute reliability in its data storage . It requires scalability to accommodate the mass data requirements of past, present, and future missions. To meet these needs, ESA has chosen NetApp data and storage management solutions .

Every day, ESA receives massive volumes of raw telemetric data from its ships and observatories. These data must be stored and processed before being archived or shared. Scientists across Europe depend on ESA’s daily observations, so the reliability of their data is crucial. Thanks to the high availability of NetApp, scientists can access the data at any time.

” We have committed to deliver data to different institutes in Europe on a daily basis, ” explains Rubén Álvarez, ESA’s chief technology officer . ” NetApp gives us the assurance that we will deliver on our commitment .”

To this challenge must be added the need to access indefinitely the data of the different missions. Everything must be stored and managed so that, in the future, scientists can continue to explore the universe using historical data. With NetApp, this is no longer a problem.

” In the coming years, we will start new missions that will require immense amounts of data, ” says Alvarez. ” NetApp has offered us scalable solutions, even if we do not know the disk storage we’ll need beforehand, and now we always have a ready-made solution .”

ESA expects to publish the full Gaia catalog in 2020 , and will be available online for astronomers and the general public. The graphical and interactive interfaces will allow anyone to access the entire catalog very easily and from anywhere, and thus explore our galaxy in 3D.

” Everything revolves around the data, ” says Álvarez, ESA’s chief technology officer. ” We call our website ‘the library of the universe’ because we store scientific files of all our missions. This way we offer an access point to the public from which to explore the universe .”