An Open Metadata

for Small Satellite Missions

Daina Bouquin, Daniel Chivvis, Nico Carver

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Space Act Agreement

Early adopters and collaborators

Funding MetaSat

PI: Daina Bouquin


The relationships between signifiers

and what they stand for in reality.


How we understand what something means.


Vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge.


(contains the signifiers)


  1. an important, complex assignment.
  2. a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.
  3. a body of people who perform a service.

Sometimes all three

  • an important assignment
  • a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.
  • a body of people who perform a service.

Mars Climate Orbiter undergoing acoustic testing. (1998). NASA.

September 7, 1999

This is the only image acquired by the Orbiter.


What does this image mean?



  This image doesn't mean anything on its own. 

We need provenance (context).


We need to know the story about the MCO Mission.

People need to be able to learn from it.


Mechanisms for modeling relationships between the information gathered from provenancial sources.


Logical framework where

semantic metadata can be recorded.

Earliest image of the moon (1849).


Was the only image of the moon.


Was a technological innovation that started a scientific revolution.


Now it's art.

Meaning is collective agreement about

a specific thing at a specific time.

You cannot predict all of the nodes in a semantic network

Human readable

metadata is limited

Meaning needs to be machine actionable.

Signifiers mean different things to different people.

We need to “cross walk”
different standards to translate meanings.

What is the mission?

Why is there a mission?

Who takes the mission on?

We need to be able to describe the components.

We need to prevent mission failures.

Data. Software. Hardware. People.

Metadata is Not Neutral


Metadata reflects a community's
shared meaning and values.


Don't let other people define these things for you.

Help define the lexicon.


Your contribution matters.

MetaSat: Open Metadata for Small Satellite Missions

By Daina Bouquin

MetaSat: Open Metadata for Small Satellite Missions

Presented at the Committee on Space Research Symposium: Small Satellites for Sustainable Science And Development. Nov. 4, 2019.

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