Software Engineer

(Please quote ref: 0801 in all correspondence)


As part of the significant MSSL/UCL involvement in ESA’s Gaia mission, a new post is available for a Software Engineer to join our team developing the core spectroscopic algorithms for the mission data processing. Knowledge and experience of software development using Java, C++ or other object-oriented languages and techniques is essential. A good degree in a numerate subject is required. Previous experience in algorithm development within team-based projects is desirable. The successful applicant will be a member of the MSSL team developing scientific data processing software for the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC). (S)he will design and develop code modules within the processing chains that will determine radial velocities from the Gaia spectroscopic data. In particular (s)he will develop code to support the main MSSL workpackages of spectral extraction, calibration and the determination of the final mission-integrated radial velocities. The post holder will be involved with algorithm requirements specification, design, documentation and testing of each code module. The role will require collaboration with the software developers and wider science teams involved in the Gaia project, and the other members of the Software Engineering Group at MSSL/UCL.

The post is initially for 3 years with the expectation of further continuation through Gaia launch and beyond. The salary will be in the range: £26,666 to £32,796. The appointment grade will be commensurate with accomplishment and experience.

Informal enquiries may be made to Steven Baker (sgb@mssl.ucl.ac.uk).

Applications, accompanied by a full CV, including a statement of research interests, plus contact details of three referees, should be sent to Libby Daghorn (ead@mssl.ucl.ac.uk) at MSSL, University College London, Holmbury St Mary, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6NT, UK.

Closing date for applications is 22 February 2008.



This post is within the Software Engineering Group, in the Department of Space and Climate Physics (http://www.mssl.ucl.ac.uk). For administrative purposes the Department is part of the UCL Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MAPS). The post-holder will report to Steven Baker and will work primarily on the data processing for ESA’s Gaia satellite.

UCL is one of the leading multi-faculty universities in Europe. It has a long and distinguished tradition having been founded in 1827 as the original University of London. It was the first English university to admit students without regard to their religious affiliation, and the first to admit women and men on equal terms. UCL has excelled in both physical sciences (it had the first teaching laboratory for physics in an English university and four of the elements were discovered at UCL) and biomedical sciences (and is now the heart of one of the largest biomedical research complexes in Western Europe). Eighteen Nobel prizes have been awarded to its staff or graduates and twenty faculty members are currently on the ISI Most Highly Cited list. The College currently has more than 3,800 academic and research staff and 18,000 students, more than a third of whom are postgraduates. Although part of the federal University of London, the College has a very high degree of financial and managerial autonomy, and its annual income is in excess of £560 million.

Mullard Space Science Laboratory is the Department of Space and Climate Physics at UCL (http://www.mssl.ucl.ac.uk) and is located on its own campus in the beautiful Surrey Hills, surrounded by woodland. Approximately 140 staff are employed on the site, including scientific research and teaching staff, mechanical and electronic engineers, software engineers and various support staff. The Department was graded 5 in the 2002 Research Assessment Exercise in a joint submission with the Department of Physics & Astronomy and the Department of Medical Physics & Bioengineering.

MSSL is the UK's largest university space research group. Space science is a discipline that demands highly innovative technologies and MSSL has an international reputation for excellence in this area. UCL was one of the first universities in the world to become involved in making scientific observations in space. Since MSSL was established in 1966, we have participated in over 35 satellite missions with the European Space Agency, NASA (USA), Japan, Russia, China and India, and flown over 200 rocket experiments. With expert staff covering all the required disciplines we have the unique capability of designing, building and testing instruments and other spacecraft systems on site. Our research scientists and development engineers work together to ensure that the instruments we produce are as relevant as possible and that the subsequent data analysis benefits from a fundamental understanding of the instruments’ individual responses. MSSL has more than a dozen instruments operating in orbit, addressing science in astronomy/astrophysics, Solar and space plasma physics. Current projects undergoing hardware development in the astronomy/astrophysics area include Herschel (ESA), JWST (NASA) and Gaia (ESA). We have developed software to support all these missions as well as many European Earth remote sensing missions such as ERS, ENVISAT and CryoSat-2.

The software engineering group has 17 staff working on a wide variety of space missions and support programmes. We have provided on-board, real-time control software for missions such as Swift, SOHO, Hinode and XMM-Newton. We have developed test software and simulators to validate 17 separate instruments currently in orbit on 9 different satellites. We have developed operational ground segment software that performs data processing on many missions including XMM-Newton, SOHO, Swift, Cluster, Hinode and ENVISAT. We are also involved in international e-science programmes such as AstroGrid.

MSSL has a significant role in ESA’s Gaia project. The Gaia mission will unravel the dynamical and chemical evolution of the Galaxy. It combines 15 µarcsec astrometry with photometry and spectroscopy to provide full 6-D phase space motions for 1.5 billion stars, together with luminosities, abundances and gravities, and will transform our knowledge of how the Galaxy was formed and how it has evolved. It will also discover thousands of new extraGalactic objects, supernovae, exoplanets and Solar system bodies. MSSL has a hardware role in Gaia, and is responsible for the major science workpackages in the spectroscopic part of the Gaia data flow system, a survey on an unprecedented scale of 108 stars measured ~40 times each.



Job Title
Gaia Data Flow Software Engineer

Department of Space & Climate Physics, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London.

Research Grade 7 (salary in the range £26,666 to £32,796). The appointment grade will be commensurate with accomplishment and experience.

Reports to
Steven Baker, Head of Software Engineering.

Summary of Job Function
The post holder will be a member of the MSSL team developing scientific data processing software for the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC). (S)he will design and develop code modules within the processing chains that will determine radial velocities from the Gaia spectroscopic data. In particular (s)he will develop code to support the main MSSL workpackages of spectral extraction, calibration and the determination of the final mission-integrated radial velocities. The post holder (with support from the Gaia team scientist) will also be responsible for designing the tests that will prove the correct functionality of the algorithms once they have been implemented in the operational system. The post holder must produce and deliver the documentation that specifies the requirements, design and validation of each code module.


Main Duties and Responsibilities

The post-holder will be expected to:

• Develop and document requirements for software modules which are components of the Gaia Data Flow processing system.

• Carry out a software design to satisfy the requirements in the most effective manner.

• Write prototype software if needed to test algorithm performance or conduct a trade-off between different methods.

• Document the chosen software design in accordance with the project methodology.

• Implement the module in Java ensuring compatibility with project templates, tools and interfaces.

• Unit test the code.

• Design performance and integration tests to validate the operational software, in conjunction with the project scientist, and document.

• Help to specify and simulate test data sets to support algorithm testing.

• Maintain the developed code under configuration control.

• Deliver the software and documentation to the Gaia consortium.

• Participate in project review meetings and support presentations on the code developed.

• Review documentation and software developed by other team members at MSSL.

• Contribute to reports and presentations on MSSL Gaia activities at team and consortium meetings.


Special working conditions
The post-holder will be required to travel, with the team, to various European Gaia consortium institutes to represent MSSL at consortium meetings, and to support and attend other project meetings or workshops as requested by the MSSL Gaia Project Manager. The post holder may occasionally be required to work out of hours.

The post holder will be required to interact frequently and effectively with other local and international team members.

Other conditions
The post holder will be required to actively follow UCL policies including ‘Equal Opportunities’, attend staff meetings and training as required, maintain an awareness of Fire and Health & Safety Regulations, carry out any other duties as are within the scope, spirit and purpose of the job, the title of the job and the grading as requested by the line manager or Head of Department. This job description reflects the present requirements of the post. As duties and responsibilities change and develop the job description will be reviewed and be subject to amendment in consultation with the post-holder.



Essential: Understanding of full software development cycles.
Essential: Sufficient background knowledge in Physics or Engineering to understand the problem domain.
Desirable: Familiarity with image processing techniques and problems, (ideally including spectroscopic and photometric techniques).
Desirable: Familiarity with issues related to space-based instrumentation, such as calibration.
Desirable: Previous experience or interest in astrophysics

Essential: Detailed knowledge of one or more of the following; Java, C++, Object-Oriented concepts.
Essential: A demonstrated grasp of issues involving the development and validation of new algorithms for processing data from scientific instruments.
Essential: Proven record of ability to manage time and work to strict deadlines.
Essential: Good software documentation skills.
Essential: Good interpersonal and organisational skills.
Essential: Good team-working skills.
Desirable: Good presentational skills.
Desirable: Working knowledge of one or more of the following; IDL, Perl, C, shell scripts.

Essential: Ability to work collaboratively.

Essential: A good degree in a numerate discipline.

Previous experience
Essential: Experience with scientific algorithm design, coding and verification.
Essential: Experience with Java or another object oriented language.
Desirable: Experience of working collaboratively within project (ideally space-based projects).
Desirable: Experience of working on international projects and/or with international agencies.
Desirable: Experience of image capture and processing systems (particularly CCDs).




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This page last modified 11 February, 2008 by www.mssl.ucl.ac.uk


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