Introduction to ASTRA
The primary ASTRA research theme is “Revealing the 3-D structure of the Milky Way” to gain a better understanding of its origin and evolution. Our Galaxy is a complex system, a late type spiral, with major structural elements being the bar and bulge, the halo, the disk — with thin and thick components. The distribution of dust and gas provides a major link with the star-formation history in our Galaxy, and thus with its various components and populations.

Our current partial knowledge of the 3-dimensional structure of the Milky Way, and the relationship between the 3-D distributions of the stars, gas, and magnetic fields, which shape the Milky Way, are severely limiting our understanding

ASTRA will deliver a focussed research programme, with at its heart, solutions to fully leverage the wealth of new data and opportunities offered by the combined data from the Gaia mission, the Planck dust maps, and various sets of ground based observations, at optical, infrared and radio wavelengths.

a) ASTRA Objective 1: Develop an advanced data access system, integrating high value relevant space and ground data, and thus enhance the usage of those space and ground-based data.
b) ASTRA Objective 2: Develop a tailored application toolkit, with on-demand capability matched to the requirements of the high volume heterogeneous space and ground-based data.
c) ASTRA Objective 3: Implement three pilot science services – providing key probes of the 3-D structure of Milky Way – demonstrating the combinatorial power of the ASTRA data/service approach – bringing together frontline research groups across a wide range of astronomy subfields (e.g. atomic & molecular spectroscopy, astro-statistics, radio astronomy).
d) ASTRA Objective 4: Seed the ASTRA pilots, such that they form the basis for further leverage by the European astronomical community in the exploitation of the Gaia, Planck and ground based data.