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Starlink, the essence of collaboration
Collaboration between research establishments and universities has been the key to the successful setting up of Starlink and will be the key to its successful operation. Starlink, managed by the RAL Computing Division, is an SRC initiative to provide and coordinate image processing and data reduction facilities for use by the UK astronomical community (see SRC Bulletin, November 1980).
The Starlink facility, officially launched in October 1980, is based on six linked VAX 11/780 computers at important UK centres of astronomical research. This network allows easy distribution of software, documentation etc between the sites. Hitherto very limited facilities existed in the UK for performing scientific analysis of observations. Astronomers either had to reduce the data manually or devise their own data processing facilities on an ad hoc basis. Even the modest facilities that existed were available to only a few astronomers. Adequate image processing facilities have become essential as the majority of astronomy will soon be using data in digital form. Starlink is SRC's response to these demands, in line with its policy to maintain the UK in the forefront of astronomy.
Mr. Neil Macfarlane, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Science, inaugurating the facility, stated: "Starlink puts the UK ahead of the rest of the world in developing a system for processing astronomical data in such a way that it will enable most university astronomers in the UK to have nearby a terminal link to a powerful computing facility, thus allowing fast analyses to be carried out by university staff and their postgraduate students in their own backyard. This collaboration between the Rutherford and Appleton Laboratories, the two Royal Observatories, the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester and University College London is itself worthy of mention and its success augurs well for the future."
On the same occasion, Professor Malcolm Longair, Director of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, outlined exciting new plans for the facility's future, but sounded a note of caution on the crucial years ahead: "The easy bit is finished," he said. "Now all our expertise will be needed in the future to respond rapidly to technological change; this can be done." Starlink's installation programme was substantially completed in January with the delivery of the final image display systems to the six sites.