GSPARC : A Centrally Coordinated Repository of Samples and Associated experimental DataE


I recently bought this expired domain with the goal of recreating as much of its original content as possible from archived pages. I did not want someone else to purchase the domain and re-purpose the site for something that had nothing in common with the original website. Consider this site's content in its historical context.

I am working for a small progressive software company where I do a lot of custom software development for the company's clients. We are beginning to make a reputation as a company specializing in healthcare applications. We worked on some of the biological research done in advance of these space programs and assigned to trouble shoot experiments in space. To help promote these efforts we work with an established NYC SEO consultancy headed by Bob Sakayama, who is known for generating high ranks in Google. His company TNG/Earthling also provides technical support for our team's websites and social media activities. They have several clients also working in fields related to space exploration and are very comfortable deploying sophisticated data solutions addressing many of the aspects related to research and development. I look at what Derek Pullan did to create a standalone database application not only to manage his growing archive, but also to organise the results of experiments performed on the samples with a variety of instruments and see parallels with some of the custom software we are developing. A lot has happened since 2002 in the technology field and the enormous possibilities the internet now offers us custom software developers. But the goals are similar: creating software that will simplify and organize myriad data and then making this information understandable and accessible.

In his thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Leicester, Derek Pullan, Space Projects and Instrumentation Group Department of Physics and Astronomy University of Leicester, discusses the archive and associated database called GSPARC (Geological Specimen Archive), established for use in research, education and public outreach. Study specimens are referred to throughout his thesis by the GSPARC coding system.

The physical specimen archive was initiated in 2002. It continued to expand over the course of his doctoral project. A standalone database application, complete with search engine, was developed between 2003 and 2005 to manage the growing archive, and to organise the results of experiments performed on the samples with a variety of instruments.

When Derek Pullan was the Instrument Manager and Science Operations Planning Manager for Beagle 2, he proposed a six-month program of coordinated laboratory experiments with the prime objective of providing the Beagle 2 science team with “hands-on” experience using a deployable suite of instruments and tools of the PAW prior to actual surface operations at Mars. A cataloging scheme was developed describing each specimen and its relationship with others in the collection. Experiments were similarly indexed. These organizing principles subsequently formed the basis of the sample repository and database called GSPARC.

The GSPARC physical archive is divided into collections which in turn are populated with samples. Within the database, identifiers define the structural components required for effective search and retrieval. Pullan conceived of an on-line version of GSPARC, and the relationships between the data archive, physical archive, and user community.

According to his thesis, Pullan explains the use of this website when it was functional: "A few important points need to be stressed with regard to the on-line facility. Firstly, all experimental results made available for download are already in the public domain (i.e., via published papers, conference proceedings, reports etc.). Actual papers are cited only, and not made available digitally unless permission has been previously granted by the journal concerned. Secondly, educational materials for download have been approved by the appropriate authorities (education sector), and are compliant with national curricula. Thirdly, the server-side database is read-only and maintained off-line by the curator of the physical archive. Finally, certain research activities involving proprietary samples, or new technologies, may not become visible to other level 1 users until the work has been published. This is to ensure confidentiality within the research groups involved "

This site was the result. Please be indulgent, since the site now only contains content from archived pages.



Now for a trip back to about 2005 when GSPARC Version 0.0 was first established.


GSPARC is a centrally coordinated repository of natural and synthetic samples and associated experimental data for use by participating scientists, engineers and educators. The archive is specifically designed to support the research activities of the Planetary Analogue Field Studies Network (PAFS-net). Although access to samples and research data is restricted, educators and interested members of the public may find some of the information contained on this site useful.

Version 0.0 (1st July 2005): This initial version of the GSPARC website is currently restricted in content. As the site develops more sample data and functionality will be incorporated. Password access will probably be established in version 1.0 and thereafter restricted data will be uploaded. All the limitations imposed on the website during the implementation phase will not impede the activities of PAFS-net which continue off-line.

GSPARC is made up of LIBRARIES and COLLECTIONS of physical specimens.


GSPARC - How does it work?

NEW SAMPLES: Samples are usually incorporated into the archive when a particular study is initiated by a group of participating researchers. However, new stock can be added at any time to expand the scope of the collections. Since the quantity of material required for research is modest (typically several hand specimens are sufficient), most samples to date have been donated by participating groups. Irrespective of thematic study, all new samples must be fully characterized. Where possible contextual information must be provided together with laboratory data and references.


IDENTIFICATION: Each item (i.e. sample) contained in the physical archive is assigned a unique identification code based on the GSPARC naming conventions. This basic ID is the link to a database where further sample attributes are defined. Samples come in many forms but all comply with basic formatting rules. The identification code also associates samples with experimental data (acquired on them by various instruments during study programmes).


EXPERIMENTAL DATA: Over time, selected samples will accumulate data from experiments involving a variety of measurement techniques. As new instrumentation is developed and prototypes require access to "real world" samples on which to perform "field" type measurements, this knowledge will prove valuable. If nothing else, access to well-characterized material held centrally can only be advantageous, especially for "holistically minded " research.


ACCESS RIGHTS: Access to physical samples and electronic data is restricted and dependent on sample and user status. The following diagram illustrates the concept of shared and restricted access. A more detailed account is given in the archive section. Important note: All data (and some sample information) will be subject to a stringent review process to ensure what is posted on the website is complete, factual and usable. Under no circumstances will proprietary or unpublished data be accessible unless those researchers involved give prior approval (usually after publication in journals).


Planetary Analogue Field Studies Network (PAFS-net)

The principal goals of PAFS-net are to engage the planetary science community in a holistic approach to in-situ exploration and establish a knowledgebase for the benefit of future exploration of the Solar System. To achieve these objectives, a coordinated programme of thematic studies involving planetary analogue materials (GSPARC) and a wide variety of in-situ measurement techniques is underway. Over time, results from the individual studies will accumulate into a shared archive of inter-related experimental data. These data together with the collective experience acquired by the PAFS-net membership will provide an invaluable contribution to future planetary exploration.

A broad range of disciplines are represented within PAFS-net including geology, astrobiology, geophysics, rock and soil mechanics, instrument development, payload engineering and robotics (including AI). Similarly, the range of appropriate in-situ analytical techniques is equally broad and includes spectroscopy (X-ray, Mössbauer, Raman, LIBS etc), imaging (micro, macro, remote, spectral), sample preparation and acquisition, and molecular analysis. Where possible, PAFS-net utilises space qualified or prototype instruments with which to conduct experiments. In the absence of either, PAFS-net studies make use of available laboratory equipment (especially portable kit) and adopt an emulation strategy.

PAFS-net is not necessarily confined to any planet, mission, payload or instrument as many of the investigations share common goals. By combining individual “discipline”, “analogue” or “sample” focused studies, the practical challenges of in-situ field measurement can be addressed from the planetary point of view. Obvious outcomes could include exploitation of instrument synergies, better understanding of instrument inter-dependencies and guidance on operational strategies.

To comply with the PAFS-net philosophy, the following rules must apply (irrespective of whether experiments are performed in the laboratory or in the field):

  • Experiments are controlled and constrained within the planetary context
  • Samples are field representative
  • Measurements are in-situ

All PAFS-net experiments are configured in order to emulate the planetary field scenario. Only if instrumentation is particularly sensitive to environmental parameters (pressure, temperature, atmospheric composition etc) should experiments be performed in dedicated chambers. For the most part however experiments are performed in the open lab or in the field. Obviously, emulating the “real world” naturally introduces complexity and many variables have to be considered, even within a single specimen. This is particularly relevant to analytical techniques but can also influence experiments with sampling devices as well. The hierarchical format philosophy of GSPARC therefore helps to provide a transition between calibration type measurements (i.e. homogenised powders) and application type measurements (i.e. heterogeneous, fresh, weathered and altered hand specimens etc). This is sometimes called characterisation and is a recommended procedure to adopt as part of, or a precursor to, any study programme (assuming such data are not in the knowledgebase already).

PAFS-net relies on the following assets to function:

  • A group of highly respected planetary scientists and engineers, representing a broad range of disciplines
  • An extensive library of well characterised, close and part analogue samples (GSPARC) or access to analogous field sites
  • An array of space qualified instruments, development prototypes and lab/field kit

Apart from the sample repository, which is centrally located and maintained, all these assets for the most part are disseminated worldwide. Study samples therefore migrate back and forth between labs and instruments travel to analogous sites during field campaigns. The entire project is coordinated centrally by the administrator of this website (Derek Pullan,

Membership of PAFS-net is open to anybody who can provide one of more of the following:

  • Expertise in a particular area of research or technology of relevance to the network
  • Donation of appropriate, well documented specimens for inclusion in the GSPARC archive
  • Experimental services such as appropriate lab and field instrumentation
  • A compatible reference data resource (integrated into GSPARC or accessible via external link)

In order to raise the profile of both PAFS-net and GSPARC, all users (members or otherwise) are encouraged to include the following in all documentation produced as a result of a PAFS-net study or experiments involving GSPARC samples:

  • Use of GSPARC IDs where appropriate
  • An acknowledgement of PAFS-net and GSPARC
  • Reference to the site (

A particularly useful aspect of PAFS-net is “blind testing”. These are coordinated exercises in which teams of researchers (usually representative of different disciplines) are presented with raw data sets acquired on unknown samples and asked to make a collective interpretation. Taken further these “sample blind tests” can be incorporated into “mission blind tests” (i.e. Planetary Yard or even in-field activities).