To observe natural systems over the long-term, the INSU laboratories carry out their research within original structures – the Observatories of Sciences of the Universe (OSUs). The Institute has also created National Observation Services (SNOs) and participates primarily in national and international research infrastructures within its fields.

Original research structures

Like the other CNRS Institutes, the INSU shares the trusteeship of most of its research units with its academic partners. The originality of its organization is the grouping of its laboratories into Observatories of the sciences of the Universe which especially implement the national actions and services labelled by the Institute.

The INSU laboratories

Mixed research units

Most INSU research units are mixed research units (UMR), managed jointly by academic partners or other organizations. Within Universities, they are grouped into observatories of the sciences of the Universe (OSU) backed-up by mixed service units (UMS).

Research federations and service structures

Four research federations (FR), five UMS, and research and service units (USR) complete this organization on a national scale, especially with a role of co-ordinating the scientific strategy of several UMRs and supporting critical platforms whose perimeters transcend the local context.

International mixed units

Four international mixed units (UMI) ensure the development of long-term co-operation with foreign Universities and organizations.

The federating role of the observatories of the sciences of the Universe (OSU)

Status and Mission

The 27 OSUs are highly original territorial structures, and their main mission is "to organize the means needed to acquire observations of astronomical systems, or components of the Earth's system." Within Universityies, they have the status of an internal school or a large institution, and comprise mixed service units (UMS) that are steered in partnership by the CNRS, the University, and in several cases by other establishments or research organizations.

Interdisciplinarity and pooling of means

At the local level, in the long-term the OSUs implement national actions and observation services and favour interdisciplinary research. Especially, they simplify access to large research infrastructures and to experimental or digital platforms of regional or national interest.

List of the observatories of the sciences of the Universe (OSU)

National observation services (SNO)

Acquisition of data

Earth Sciences and Astronomy rely on the acquisition of data that describe the formation, evolution and variations in the astronomical systems and Earth environment. Thus, the INSU develops a specific strategy to answer scientific issues and associated societal challenges.

The SNOs label

The INSU creates and assesses the National observation services (SNOs) which implement observation systems and those of data acquisition over several years, or even several decades. These systems have a service vocation to the benefit of all the community and enable knowledge to progress about the formation, evolution and the variability of the systems studied.

The definition and recognition of the contents of SNOs and the quality of the observations accumulated are established following a process of labelling. This allows the implementation of the Institute's strategy, and the most efficient use possible of the resources.

National actions for observation

Since 2016, the SNOs have been grouped into "national actions for observation", in each of the large fields of research of the Institute to structure and steer this activity of systematic observation, and to bring it closer to the large national or international research infrastructures.

To find out more about the National observation services


INSU researchers can rely on national and international research infrastructures, and on data centres as well as major large-scale tools which have become indispensable to drive their research.

Research infrastructures

The INSU steers national and international research infrastructures in collaboration with its French or foreign partners. Thus, its researchers can carry out extensive research as they have access to the most powerful equipment in the highest level environments including telescopes, interferometers, synchrotrons, oceanographic vessels.

Lists of research infrastructures

Data centres and poles

The data centres and poles make data, tools, or services available, to unite or cross data that issue from different sources of production (SNOs, space missions, large field campaigns, digital modelling).

List of data centres and poles

Technical and human means

The technical deputy director of the INSU accompanies a certain number of challenges of instrumental development for the scientific programmes of the Institute. Furthermore, it identifies strategic skills to be maintained and/or developed within its laboratories.

The technical community is one that has a great deal of personality. It has members who are prepared to advance, and through this network, we can see critical and novel questions emerging, that deserve to be pursued in the future.
Pierre Kern, Deputy technical director of the INSU

Missions of the technical deputy director

To develop actions of project support, to accompany and co-ordinate R&D actions, to anticipate the technical needs of the laboratories and project teams, especially during preliminary phases of major projects, including skills and technical means, ensuring, for the INSU technical monitoring and support of projects and participation in prospective studies. These missions can be broken down as follows:

Instrumentation and animation monitoring of professions

  • To drive the qualitative and quantitative prospective evolution of technical professions especially those which are specific to instrumental and observational needs of the Institute, via training programmes (ANF) and professional networks;
  • To accompany the organization of professions through networks and dedicated training programmes;
  • To contribute to the organization of congresses and thematic schools for the INSU laboratories;

Project monitoring and support

  • To contribute at the national level to the monitoring and support of major technical projects (steering committees or monitoring and support, reviews, key points);
  • To ensure the technical monitoring and support of the space laboratories for the INSU, or those implicated in major technical projects and interfaces, with the CNES in liaison with the DS and DAS concerned, 
  • Do develop activities of project quality: methods, product insurance etc.
  • To ensure with the help of the director of the Technical Division (DT) the monitoring and support and the installation of the means for national instruments;
  • To ensure the link between laboratories and the DT, jointly with the department team, for their needs concerning development or deployment of means of observation (see the INSU technical division site);

An example of a technical project: a visit to the LAM SPATIAL technical platform during the integration of the Euclid NISP, FIREBall, and SUBARU PFS instruments.

Monitoring of the Institute prospective

  • To participate in the prospective organized by specialized commissions and by programmes;
  • To co-ordinate the R&D at the INSU and ensure the monitoring of resources that are affected to this;

Monitoring of national infrastructures 

  • To ensure the technical monitoring and support of national infrastructures;
  • To accompany the co-ordination of support for major campaigns of measurements;
  • To ensure the monitoring and support of calls to tender that are instrumental for the support of national means.

Click on the link to visit the site of the Technical Division of the INSU (in French).

Actions and projects

Networks of professions
Networks of professions which help the INSU to support instrumental development and means of observation.

  • MAPI (in French) MAnagement of the INSU Project
  • Project quality 
  • Network of Lithopreparators (in French)
  • SIST (in French) - the technological network of computer scientists and observational data managers
  • TechMar - the network of Marine Technologies
  • MSK (in French) - the "Underground and Karsts media" professional network
  • Docplanets (in French) - the network of professionals of the Scientific and Technical Information of the INSU
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Example of the 2018 ANF of the SIST network. Management of observation data, and computing tools for development.

National Training Action Initiatives
These National Training Action Initiatives help Engineers, Technicians, and Instrumentalist Researchers acquire or complete the skills needed to carry out their missions.

Apart from the training courses proposed by the professional networks of the CNRS managed via MITI, the INSU proposes training specific to its needs. Depending on the case, these training courses are proposed every year or every two years, for more specific, occasional requirements or on an ad hoc basis. These training sessions may be proposed jointly with other Institutes, especially the IN2P3 or INEE. Our current training activities are the following:

  • Training sessions planned for 2019:
    • System Engineering (in French) 4th to 7th February 2019 at the Observatory of Haute Provence
  • Training sessions planned for 2019, but for which the date will be specified later: 
    • ISOTRACE – Analysis of elements by TRACE and RAdiogenic ISOtopes in Earth Sciences
    • Technological Platform (TeMpeTe)
    • RESOMAR (in French) / TAXO – Network of Marine Observatories and Stations
    • Lithopreparator (in liaison with the INEE and the INSHS)
    • Project management (co-ordinated by the MAPI network, in liaison with the IN2P3)
    • MSK (in liaison with the INEE and the INSHS)
    • Quality (in liaison with the IN2P3 and the "Quality in Research Network" of MITI)
  • Recurrent training sessions that will not be run in 2019:
    • Concurrent engineering 
    • TechMar – the network of Marine Technologies
    • SIST (in French)

Support to teams through technical assistance
The INSU ensures the establishment and monitoring of technical assistance contracts in liaison with the DDAI of the CNRS.
The vocation of these contracts is to allow laboratories to access technical support services in support of teams with the competence to supervise them.
A first contract gives access to product insurance benefits.
Work is currently underway on a broader contract which would provide access to a whole group of benefits necessary for the technical needs of laboratories.

Technical platforms
Technical platforms ensure support to the INSU IR/TGIR or SNOs

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An example of a technical platform: the Technical Division fleet of gliders consists of approximately a dozen machines.