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SPICE History

In 1982 The National Research Council's Committee on Data Management and Computation (CODMAC) issued a report [Ref 1] detailing problems with and providing recommendations for the archival treatment of data returned from NASA's Space Science Missions. Included in this report was an admonition to properly collect and archive the ancillary (engineering) information needed to fully and correctly interpret data returned from space science instruments.

In response to the CODMAC report NASA convened a Planetary Data Workshop [Ref. 2], chaired by Dr. Hugh Kieffer of the United States Geological Survey, Astrogeology Branch. Discussions by interested scientists at and subsequent to this meeting resulted in the concept-unnamed at that point-of carefully archiving the fundamental ancillary data sets that are needed to derive the viewing geometry parameters such as lighting angles and latitude/longitude typically needed in analyzing space science data.

In the months following the Workshop the concept was further articulated under the leadership of Dr. Kieffer. At that moment NASA Headquarters was forming a number of "pilot" space science data systems to implement the CODMAC recommendations. Associated with the Pilot Planetary Data System was an ancillary information system. The leader of this activity, Charles Acton, worked with Kieffer and the other scientists, and new staff members, to refine the ancillary information system concept. Kieffer coined the "SPICE" acronym to identify the major system components - Spacecraft, Planet, Instrument, C-matrix, Events, - and the SPICE system was born.

The first efforts at implementing SPICE components were undertaken in conjunction with support for Voyager instrument teams as a proof of concept demonstration. A small number of improved instrument pointing estimates were made for already available ancillary data from the Jupiter and Saturn flybys. Image navigation (improving the pointing estimates for images based on observed target body locations within the images) was conducted in near-real time during the Neptune and Uranus flybys. The formats of the ancillary files designed during these demonstrations did not survive, but the lessons learned helped guide the design of modern SPICE kernels.

The first official, albeit partial, use of SPICE technology occurred on the Magellan mission to Venus; here the Navigation Team produced spacecraft orbit data in the SPICE SPK format that is still in use today.

Based in part on the success with Magellan, but also a consequence of timing, the Mars Observer and Galileo projects both conducted studies to determine if the SPICE approach to dealing with ancillary data should replace the then current Supplemental Experiment Data Records (SEDR) system. The science and management teams for both projects determined the change to SPICE was appropriate. SPICE became the defacto standard for providing ancillary data to NASA's solar system exploration missions.

The nascent SPICE system was focused on assisting scientists with data analysis tasks, but it was quickly realized by the space exploration community that the design characteristics of SPICE made it equally suitable for use in mission design, mission operations, and observation planning. Today SPICE is routinely used in all phases of planetary missions, and portions of SPICE are increasingly being used on other types of space science missions.

Ref. 1: "Data Management and Computation; Volume 1 - Issues and Recommendations;" Committee on Data Management and Computation, Space Science Board, Assembly of Mathematical and Physical Processes, National Research Council; published by National Academy Press; 1982.

Ref. 2: Proceedings of the "Planetary Data Workshop;" Greenbelt Md.; November 29 - December 1, 1983; edited by Dr. H. Kieffer, USGS Astrogeology Branch; NASA Conference Publication 2343 (Parts 1 and 2).

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