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The EDIDOC project at the European Space Agency (ESA)

By Joseph Paris

SGML BeLux, Vol. 1, N° 2

The EDIDOC project at ESA attempts to merge the functionalities of electronic data interchange with those of electronic document engineering. It uses SGML to exchange in electronic format documentation within ESA, and between ESA and its different industrial partners.

The European Space Community, i.e. the people working inside ESA, in industry or in associated technical and scientific organisations, is large and diverse. Today, more than 3,500 different users work with diverse proprietary computer systems, mainly mainframe-based. Both for the technical work itself and for the administration of the projects and programmes, very large volumes of documents are shipped back and forth between these users.

As in most organisations, the use of electronic documents is now widespread at the drafting, writing and publishing level. However, the bewildering variety of computer operating systems, document processing software, means of communications and data storage systems makes it at present very difficult (and in many cases even impossible) to exchange, reformat and reprocess electronic documents.

This is why, last February, the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and DOCumentation management or EDIDOC project has been launched by ESA. The overall objective of this project is to make the exchange and use of documentation within ESA, and between ESA and its industrial partners, more efficient, rapid and accurate, by extending the principles and techniques of EDI to the domain of documentation management.

The development of a generic system, called EDIDOC server, has just been started, which will provide functionality in six main areas:

A key added value of EDIDOC is to provide ESA with an enabling technology by which it can play the role of a neutral trusted third party in terms of enabling, moderating and auditing the document exchange processes taking place between the ESA partners. This role is especially important when we know that these partners need to collaborate on specific projects, while remaining in every other respect competitors outside of any ESA context.

EDIDOC shall be put into operation and experimental use with the cooperation of pilot users (including some of the major European space industries) who are expected to receive comprehensive support as part of the project, in both technical and organizational areas.

Specific SGML and EDIFACT substandards will be defined and implemented, covering both technical and administrative applications, and will be submitted to international standardisation bodies. They will include a.o. the following document types:

In the medium term, the use of EDIDOC is scheduled to become compulsory for all contractual exchanges. To provide the EDIDOC users with maximal legal reliability, a contractual framework and a set of organization rules (model agreements) will be implemented.

The project has been contracted to BIM Belgium, who will realize the development of the software and perform the on-site integration and tests within a period of 26 months.

For more information, please contact: now:

ACSE s.a., a member of the SGML Technologies Group
Boulevard General Wahis 29

E-mail: edidoc-info@acse.be
Telephone: +32 (2) 705.70.21

latest update: August 8, 1996
For more info: mail to our secretariat