Using a combination of Internet, relational database and Java programming technologies, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is significantly improving the ground operations support capabilities of the nation's space program. The new ground support operating systems already have been used on four missions: Cassini, IMAGE, STEREO and Swift.
Conventional ground support systems have long used software developed from early-generation programming languages and proprietary file formats. While the software packages themselves have become more sophisticated over time, there are serious limitations in the accessibility and maintainability of these systems and the data they manage.
"The combination of proprietary systems and old-generation programming languages results in ground support systems that are expensive and difficult to maintain over time," says Rob Thorpe, a group leader in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. "It is also difficult to sort and filter data from these types of systems."
The SwRI systems use Internet, relational database and Java programming technologies to provide versatile, efficient and inexpensive systems that range from complete ground support systems for a single science instrument to mission planning systems for an entire spacecraft.
Internet technology enables space scientists to cooperate on missions from anywhere in the world, from any web-enabled computer platform. Operations personnel can perform mission operations tasks, using secure access, from any web browser. Access to the system and sensitive information is protected using the Netscape Directory Server in combination with Hyper-Text Transport Protocol (Secure) (HTTPS). Relational databases serve as the data repository. Data are stored in a single location using a non-proprietary format, enabling easy access in a variety of combinations and formats.
The web-based ground support system components are developed using the Java programming language, which also serves as the interface between the web server and the database. As a "fifth generation" language, Java also provides a host of capabilities not available in older programming languages, such as code reusability, polymorphism, encapsulation, and implementation hiding.
Under funding from NASA, SwRI first applied the ground support systems for the Cassini mission to Saturn. Nearly all operations for the spacecraft's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instrument are managed through web browsers using the INMS Operations Network (ION). The ION system stores all uplink, downlink and analysis data in a relational Oracle8i(tm) database.
SwRI also developed the Cassini Activity Request System (CARS) as a prototype for managing and scheduling spacecraft activities over the web.
The Cassini Information Management System (CIMS) is the full-up production system based on CARS. This system greatly expands on the spacecraft management and scheduling functions of CARS and also ties in several other spacecraft tools using Extensible Markup Language (XML). The scheduling of the Cassini spacecraft for its four-year tour of Saturn is managed using this tool.
The Electronic Cassini Activity Request System (eCARS) is a web-based science opportunity analysis system for the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) instrument. Using this tool, scientists plan, review and discuss science opportunities in the Saturn system.
The Action Item Management System (AIMS) provides web-based access to action items for project managers. E-mail notifications are sent out from this system as action item due dates approach. The system also stores e-mail and documents as reference information. All data is stored in a relational database and is accessible through a variety of queries and filters.
Another project management system, the Risk Management System (RMS), allows project leaders to manage risks through a web browser. RMS also stores risk data in a relational database, has a built-in file transfer system so risk mitigation documents can easily be stored online, and has a built-in e-mail system to notify managers as risk dates approach.
The newest system, the Calibration Data Management System (CDMS), offers web-based management of, and access to, science instrument calibration data.
"These integrated tools yield great advantages in efficiency, versatility and cost," says Thorpe. "The result is an increase in capabilities and cost savings that can be applied to the science aspects of the mission."
Southwest Research Institute
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