The Astro-Helio Group

The Astroinformatics and Heliophysics Group is an interdisciplinary research group at the FHNW Institute for Data Science: computer scientists, engineers and physicists in the domains of solar- and astrophysics. We contribute to some of the big international space and astronomy endeavours by the European Space Agency ESA, their American counterpart NASA or through the European research programme Horizon2020. We are also interested in clever small and low-cost projects that allow studying the universe with limited resources.

People at all levels of their career work for the projects in international teams: students, doctoral students, post-docs, engineers, scientists, a science communicator and an administrator. Even apprentices in software engineering contribute to our space projects, which is very exciting for them.

André Csillaghy, head of the Institute for Data Science

Martin Melchior, deputy head, lead astroinformatics

Säm Krucker, lead heliophysics, principal investigator STIX X-ray telescope

 Our flagship project – the X-ray telescope STIX

Our currently biggest and most complex project is the X-ray telescope STIX which will fly to the Sun in 2020 on board the ESA-spacecraft Solar Orbiter. It is lead by astrophysicist Dr. Säm Krucker at the Institute for Data Science. The instrument was designed at FHNW, involving several institutes and making use of technical facilities on-site. It was built in co-operation with Swiss and European partners, both industrial and academic.

While most of our space projects are computer science projects, STIX encompasses work at all levels of research and development: instrument design, analysis, manufacturing, assembly and testing of flight hardware as well as development of ground- and flight-software. Once the instrument sends data, they will be exploited, and knowledge extracted, by scientists at the Institute of Data Science and researchers throughout the globe. The STIX project is an example demonstrating the effectiveness of an interdisciplinary team working closely together so each member has a clear idea about what is needed and what the other does.

Organizations we participate in


Swiss Space Center’s Working Group on Software for Operations

I4DS, Founding Member. The objective of the working group is to connect the Swiss academy and industrial actors and to provide a platform for promoting common projects, enabling the industrial partners to increase their competitiveness and therefore increase the impact of Swiss software contributions in the space sector.

Swiss SKA Consortium

I4DS, Consortium Partner. Swiss universities and industries are interested in the radio telescope Square Kilometer Array (SKA) and are investigating the best way to participate in the project. SKA has been identified as one of the potential large scale infrastructures to which Switzerland could contribute in the coming years.

International Space Weather Initiative ISWI

André Csillaghy, National Coordinator. ISWI is a program of international cooperation to advance space weather science by a combination of instrument deployment, analysis and interpretation of space weather data from the deployed instruments in conjunction with space data, and communicate the results to the public and students.

Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space UN COPUOS

Marina Battaglia, Swiss representative of the Space Weather Expert Group. The UN-committee deals with international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. Its role as a forum to monitor and discuss developments related to the exploration and use of outer space has evolved alongside with the technical advancements in space exploration, geopolitical changes, and the evolving use of space science and technology for sustainable development.

The Scientific Committee on Solar Terrestrial Physics  SCOSTEP

Marina Battaglia, National Adherent Representative. SCOSTEP runs international interdisciplinary scientific programs and promotes solar-terrestrial physics research by providing the necessary scientific framework for international collaboration and dissemination of the derived scientific knowledge in collaboration with other ICSU bodies. SCOSTEP is a permanent observer at the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS).

ESA Business Incubation Centres ESA BIC

I4DS, partner of The ESA Business Incubation Centre Switzerland. Together with partners, ESA BIC Switzerland is the place for entrepreneurs with a link to space technologies in order to realise their innovative ideas in space or on earth.

ESA Space Situational Awareness SSA

I4DS, expert group for the Solar Weather Expert Service Centre. The mission of the Solar Weather ESC is to provide and develop the functionalities, capabilities and expertise in the domain of Solar Weather that are needed within the ESA SSA SWE Network to achieve as a collaborative enterprise its mission of demonstrating and assessing the influences of Space Weather and informing and supporting end-users through the provision of accurate, reliable and timely products and (pre) operational services, tailored to their requirements.

Action spécifique observatoire virtuel – France ASOV

André Csillaghy, Conseil Scientifique. L’Action spécifique observatoire virtuel – France a pour objectif d’aider les équipes françaises à participer à la mise en œuvre de l’Observatoire virtuel astronomique international, ainsi que celles qui travaillent sur des sujets similaires dans le domaine de la physique des plasmas spatiaux, de la planétologie et des astroparticules.

A short history of space at the Institute for Data Science

The Institute for Data Science has been involved in software development for space applications since 2002. After ETH started concentrating their resources on cosmology, some heliophysics activities were transferred to FHNW. This way, knowledge built up at ETH over decades was kept in Switzerland. Further developments in the field of heliophysics, which has a long tradition in Switzerland, could be initiated.

The prerequisites at FHNW for space activities were good. A combination of computer science, engineering and physics, space sciences are deeply rooted in the applied sciences, yet driven by the requirements of astrophysics. Space research and development rely on a close cooperation between partners from universities and the industries to ensure the best possible interplay between hardware, software and science.

While the field of data sciences evolved, the Astroinformatics and Heliophysics Group grew. The huge amount of data from space missions calls for new approaches in computer science, including the use of machine learning and the development of algorithms for data retrieval and -analysis. The capability to treat large amounts of data in new ways opens up new perspectives in data exploitation and information extraction, resulting in new methodologies for science.

These developments in computer science are more than about a particular space project. In fact, space sciences fuel computer sciences by providing a wealth of freely accessible high-quality data sets from publicly funded space research projects, in particular NASA missions. These data are invaluable resources for developing new methodologies like machine learning, which are finally applicable to other fields such as health or for business enterprises.

Data Science is computer science and statistics
merged to provide data-driven methods integrated with domain knowledge
to answer a broad range of questions and drive decision making.

Berkeley Division of Data Science