Project In Progress

Aeneid is a Mission Control software concept that leverages agentive technologies while increasing awareness and collaboration between science teams for the planning and managing of non-manned space missions.

Advisors: Todd Masilko, Tibor Balint

Understanding Mission Control

We’ve all grown up with an idea of mission control systems. A busy, overwhelming, anxious environment with a visual cacophony of switches, push-buttons, and monitors. The concept of mission control is so synonymous with system complexity that the term can be used to reference virtually any large control system.

To find out how a mission control system actually operated and what the future holds for a control system that relies heavily on social and spatial engagement, I enlisted the help of JPL’s principle human centered designer, Tibor Balint.

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For our first meeting I brought in pictures of various mission controls throughout the years. Tibor walked through each one breaking down exactly how a non-manned mission works and the hierarchical structures of mission control.

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“While engineers need their numbers, other people need a visual to understand what’s happening or why something should happen."

I also wanted to understand how a mission is planned. I used New Horizons, the mission to Pluto, as an example. Tibor explained how the science payloads are decided on and how missions are approved. We then did a card sort of interface components to see where the priorities should be in a mission control interface.

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Science Payload Management

Tibor mentioned how the equipment management of a space probe’s science payload is rather complex. To illustrate these challenges I’ll use the 1977 spacecraft Voyager as an example.

Voyager - 1977

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A space probe's science payload consists of all the instruments and equipment needed to accomplish its science mission.


Voyagers Payload

(CRS) Cosmic Ray Subsystem
(HGA) High-Gain Antenna - communicates with earth
(ISS) Imaging Science Subsystem - Two television-type cameras
(IRIS) Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer and Radiometer
(LECP) Low-Energy Charged Particle
(MAG) Magnetometer
(PPS) Photopolarimeter Subsystem
(PRA) Planetary Radio Astronomy
(PWS) Plasma Wave Subsystem
(RTG) Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
(UVS) Ultraviolet Spectrometer


Unfortunately, not all the instruments can operate at the same time. For example, while Voyager is transmitting data to earth, the power resources are diverted to the (HGA). This means the (MAG) cannot operate during this period. Alternatively, if the (MAG) is operating, there may not be enough resources to run the (ISS).

HGA

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MAG

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Additionally, each scientific instrument is partnered with its own specific science team. Scheduling this ballet of navigation and scientific equipment usage is a complex task that requires a lot of team negotiation, especially if something goes wrong.

“Focus on something that's possible but doesn’t exist yet."

Before I could start ideating on what future system could allow science teams and investigators to better manage non-manned space missions, I had to plan a new fictional future mission. I asked Tibor for advice on how I should consider future technologies. He told me to “Focus on something that's possible but doesn’t exist yet,” meaning, no warp drive.

Mission Plan

Destination:
Venus

Science Goals:
Atmospheric Analysis
Topographical Imaging

Name:
Virgil:
In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the roman poet Virgil is Dante’s guide through Hell and Purgatory. This name is appropriate given that the surface temperature of Venus is 864º F.

Designing Virgil

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Virgil's Payload

(LMWR) Long Range Microwave Water Radiometer
(HDVC) High-Definition Venus Camera
(VIRTIS) Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer
(AISR) Atmospheric Imager / Spectral Radiometer
(APMA) Atmospheric Particulate Micro Analyzer
(LCR) Laser Communication Relay
(VUIS) Venus Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer


One potential technological advance that I've incorporated is the laser space communication network, which would allow for much higher data rates than today’s radio powered Deep Space Network. This opens up a spacecraft's science payload for more complex equipment, higher resolution scans, and even 4k video. Read more about this technology at NASA, and a great summary of the concepts at WIRED. Also, check out DSN-Now!

Finding a Flow

Equipped with a mission plan, I started to build a user scenario. I looked back to sci-fi for cues as to how to use a dramatic event to push action.

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After some extensive editing I got the user flow down to a more concise path. I utilized a solar panel failure as the key event, prompting the restructuring of Virgil's mission.

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Interface Building

I’m currently working on a system that focuses on how to leverage communication between the science teams in the event of a system failure on a non-manned science mission. Additionally I’m exploring how someone in a future mission control could incorporate agentive technologies.

More to come...

Sketch Ideation

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Tools Used: After Effects, Cinema 4D, Sketch, Origami Studio