Three people working inside a research aircraft. One person is sat looking at a computer screen with another person standing looking at the screen. One person is standing looking at a laptop screen.

The FAAM Airborne Laboratory’s atmospheric research aircraft takes hundreds of measurements a second across a suite of sensing equipment. Each byte of data is reliably captured, processed and stored for every flight. Our data management system needs to be as robust as possible to handle this volume of data. 

What is DECADES?

DECADES (Data Evaluation, Collection, Analysis, Display, End-use and Storage) forms the backbone of the aircraft’s data collection, management and visualisation system. The current DECADES system, which replaced the previous system (HORACE), has been in operation since 2013. True to its name, it has functioned extremely reliably for over ten years.

The essential building blocks of DECADES are:

  • High accuracy precision network time servers
  • Distributed Data Logging Units (DLUs) using National Instruments’ CompactRIO hardware
  • Gigabit aircraft network
  • Accurate aircraft position, altitude, velocity and attitude information from GPS/Inertial Navigation Unit (INU)
  • Servers with disk and database storage to log instrument data and return time-stamped data for near real-time visualisation

What changes will be made to the DECADES system?

The Mid-Life Upgrade DECADES-2 project reviews all aspects of DECADES and will ensure it continues operating just as reliably throughout the next decade. Alongside DECADES-2, through related MLU projects, there are plans for a considerable upgrade to the network, computing and data storage infrastructure on the aircraft. 

A similar upgrade to FAAM’s ground-based laboratories involves the installation of a condensed replica of the aircraft’s equipment. With this we will be able to run a testing and simulation environment for DECADES-2 that mimics the in-flight experience.

What will DECADES-2 look like? 

The primary aims of DECADES-2 are:

  • Upgrade the Data Logging Units (hardware and software)
  • Review and improve the server software
  • Bring these changes over to the upgraded network, computing and storage infrastructure on the aircraft. 

DECADES-2 will be more user-friendly and compatible with more instrumentation on the aircraft. The more instruments are designed to interface with DECADES-2, the more scientists will be able to visualise a greater range of data during a mission. Instruments will have access to information from the flight systems such as altitude, heading, weight-on-wheels (a safety measure that ensures certain equipment only operates when the aircraft is airborne), and data from other instruments and sensors as needed.

We plan to use established network regimes, such as those used by ‘Internet of Things’ devices (devices that are able to communicate with each other as part of a wider network), to manage data on the aircraft. Using these standardised protocols means that we can support many hardware and software configurations, making it easier for researchers to tailor the aircraft’s instrument suite to suit their projects’ needs.