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Intelligent Launch & Range Operations
 
The human and robotic space program is an extensible launch and range system. Catastrophic failures are associated with the high risks imposed by launch and/or landing operations. Efficiency and safety in a healthy knowledge management environment requires embedding advanced information technologies into the complexity of present aerospace operations.

VTBResearch Overview
The Virtual Test Bed (VTB) is being developed and designed as a dynamic facility that can support decision-making, risk analysis, technical training and other functions and operations of present facilities. Just in this capacity, it is a valuable development for payload operations at Kennedy Space Center, mission planning at Wallops, range decisions at Cape Canaveral, and other groups that have also expressed a strong interest in building a partnership with NASA Ames Research Center.

Image left: VTB is a Dynamic Developmental Tool for Launch and Range Operations Centers.

The VTB allows participants to experiment with new Human Centered Computing (HCC) techniques in a simulated launch and range operations center. The centerpiece of the facility is a launch and range operations simulator capable of simulating a variety of missions, vehicles, flight anomalies, human controller scenarios, and globally dispersed range operations. With this system, knowledge is captured in expert systems and developed into advanced intelligent agents, operational concepts are simulated, and alternate approaches to system design are analyzed to better understand human factors and performance issues for future launch operations. As a result, designers produce more effective information and decision support systems for launch and range operations. The ultimate outcome of this research is a solution or part of the solution to one of the most complex problems facing next generation spaceport designers: replacing today’s launch and range procedures with intelligent systems of systems that enable highly responsive, safe and affordable operations with fewer human controllers.

Key products are new designs for information management and decision-aiding systems, enabling a reduced staff of human decision makers to supervise and integrate a system-of-systems of more complex, fast-paced, and heterogeneous set of missions.

Objective
The objective of the Intelligent Launch and Range Operations research is to support the Office of Exploration Systems and to develop a fundamental understanding in human performance and information management for mission planning and operation of present and future launch and range systems, operations concepts, and simulations.

Simulations and Analysis- Implement a useful level of analytical and simulation tools which bridge the gap between current launch and range operation programs and the human decision making and information management issues critical to mission success.

Image right: Human Performance, Decision-Making, and Information Management are Simulated and Analyzed.

- Demonstrate how to simulate and analyze a range of operations concepts from human performance, decision-making, and information management. This simulation will enable proper planning, scheduling, engineering designs and fault tolerant analysis of launch.

- Identify mission-critical issues and propose plausible solutions.

Space operations within NASA are large-scale efforts involving the coordination of geographically disparate teams with different disciplines that support spacecraft and mission functions. Launch and Range operations refer to a variety of essential support functions associated with mission planning, logistics, and operations of ground-vehicle activities, payload, launch, range safety and human risk management (in case of failure). The activities are geographically dispersed across large territory (the range), requiring the coordination of teams managed by NASA, Industry and the U.S. Air Force. Two working groups consisting of NASA, military, and civilian participants, were formed to study and advise on how to modernize launch and range activities as part of a larger goal of envisioning an advanced spaceport. Modernization efforts are complicated by the lack of information technology to support decisions about such complex operations and provide insight into their safety, cost, financial and human factors of present operations and consequences of proposed new concepts.

This problem is not confined to launch and range modernization, but is a widespread and persistent problem affecting proposed changes in many large, complex systems. For example, similar difficulties have been observed with efforts to modernize air traffic control operations. Likewise, planetary missions at JPL must coordinate the science goals with mission operations and safety goals. In rover missions to explore Mars, for example, decisions on where to allocate limited rover resources must be worked out between science goals and mission demands. As with launch and range, decision must be reached by collaboration between teams that are geographically dispersed where each contains unique domain knowledge.