Spectrum signs on with NASA

30/01/2007 - 22:00


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Data recovery and storage company, SpectrumData Ltd, has accepted a request by US space agency NASA to retrieve data from 200 magnetic reel tapes broadcast more than 35 years ago.

Spectrum signs on with NASA

Data recovery and storage company, SpectrumData Ltd, has accepted a request by US space agency NASA to retrieve data from 200 magnetic reel tapes broadcast more than 35 years ago.

The tapes contain information transmitted from the moon during the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions, and are copies of NASA’s original recordings, which have been in storage at Curtin University of Technology’s physics department for the past 37 years.

Bentley-based SpectrumData will catalogue the tapes and perform a media integrity audit to determine their condition, before proceeding with recovery of the data, which contains information on the lunar surface environment and may be relevant to future missions.

SpectrumData chief executive officer and physicist Guy Holmes said his company’s involvement in the project resulted in part from his own participation in tracking down Australian physicist Dr Brian O’Brien, who designed the dust detection experiment used in 1969, and originally held the tapes.

“I did some background reading and we tracked down Brian to find out what could be done to locate the tapes,” he told WA Business News.

“We were chosen [by NASA] because we were proactive and had the facilities to provide.”

Mr Holmes said the tapes were in relatively good condition, although recovery of the data could prove challenging.

“The tapes are very old and need a special type of tape drive to read them, but tapes of that age also suffer from deterioration and natural degradation, and must be handled carefully to get to the stage where they can be read,” he said.

“I would think it all should be wrapped up within a couple of months. Getting data from the tapes is one issue, however getting data from the tapes and into something people can use today is something else. It will take a little reverse engineering to turn it back into useful content.”

Mr Holmes said the volume of tapes to be analysed was relatively small, compared with the 25,000 tapes processed by SpectrumData last year, but said the project was important to the company.

“It is very significant in terms of being one-of-a-kind data and the fact that NASA is interested in the data for some work they are doing on Mars. It’s actually not something of a significant value to us in dollar terms – I’m more technically interested in the process than I am concerned about charging,” he said.

Mr Holmes said the project may act as a precursor to further opportunities with the US-based space agency.

“We’re talking about types of equipment you won’t find running anywhere in the world. We have a number of environments running here from the 1960s,” he said. “If we can crack this data, I would think there would be other data sets that NASA would need some help with.”

SpectrumData’s other international clients include the governments of Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Japan.

Mr Holmes said these projects ranged from data storage to recovery and distribution services, although the trend was towards a more integrated service.

“Our business is growing in the area of a management service, in both storage and delivery of data when recalled,” he said.

Perth iX managing director Kim Gray said his company was following a similar trend towards offering managed services.

“We really are setting ourselves up to have a managed service. We’re about to launch a product in and around telephony, which is completely managed,” he said.

Mr Gray said that, while Perth iX had several international clients, it was not actively pursuing further offshore opportunities, given the strong domestic demand for the company’s services.


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