ISS Testbed for Analog Research Communication Delay Preparation (ISTAR Comm Delay Prep) - 07.29.14
ISS Science for Everyone
Science Objectives for Everyone
Future missions into deep space, including to asteroids and Mars, will experience communications delays because radio signals can only move as fast as the speed of light. The ISS Testbed for Analog Research Communication Delay Preparation (ISTAR Comm Delay Preparation) investigation studies different aspects of ground team and astronaut communication as well as techniques for increasing crew autonomy in working through their daily mission plans. Specifically, this investigation studies use of instant messaging (e.g. text messaging) protocols as a means of communication to supplement voice communications, investigates crew onboard adaptation when subjected to voice communications delays while performing specific tasks, and develops techniques for enhancing crew autonomy in working through procedures.
Science Results for Everyone
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)
ISS Expedition Duration
September 2013 - September 2014
Previous ISS Missions
ISS Testbed for Analog Research Communication Delay Preparation (ISTAR Comm Delay Prep) is the first in a series of investigations exploring delayed voice communication and modified flight and ground operational procedures in preparation for the future human exploration of deep space.The initial International Space Station (ISS) tests, planned for Increments 31 through 36, include a United States On-orbit Segment (USOS) crewmember and the Houston Flight Control Team.
The initial International Space Station (ISS) tests, planned for Increments 31 through 36, include a United States On-orbit Segment (USOS) crewmember and the Houston Flight Control Team.
Aim 1: To make and evaluate changes to current operational procedures, which rely on significant interaction between the crew and the Flight Control Team, to allow the crew to work more autonomously.Aim 2: To develop operational protocols for text messaging between the ISS crew and Mission Control Center (MCC), and to evaluate text messaging as a supplement to delayed voice communication. This work is done in parallel with continued exploration of communication delay in ground-based space exploration analogs such as Desert Research and Technology Studies (DRATS) and NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO).
Aim 2: To develop operational protocols for text messaging between the ISS crew and Mission Control Center (MCC), and to evaluate text messaging as a supplement to delayed voice communication. This work is done in parallel with continued exploration of communication delay in ground-based space exploration analogs.
Aim 3: To introduce the concept of self-scheduling to the crew and begin to identify which resources and information the crew needs to schedule and reschedule their day, in addition to identifying tool functionality to develop planning systems that will allow the crew to efficiently perform autonomous scheduling/rescheduling of their plans without the help of ground planners.
Aim 4: To prepare crews and flight control teams with skills and operational techniques needed for future deep space exploration missions with reduced communication and increased crew autonomy.
Aim 5: To test, refine, and formally adopt the procedural and communication tools needed for future tests with formally delayed voice, data, or both, removing variables that could potentially confound an evaluation of the effects of the communication delay itself.
To facilitate a planned full clinical study of communication delay (JSC-HRP-076) in the Increment 39 and 40 timeframe, ISS Testbed for Analog Research Communication Delay Preparation (ISTAR Comm Delay Prep) enlists crews and flight controllers to identify, modify, and evaluate a selection of crew procedures for increased crew autonomy, and to investigate text messaging as a supplement for restricted voice communication. This activity eliminates those two factors as potentially confounding variables in future evaluations of the effects of delayed communication. This investigation also provides valuable tests of the modified procedures and the messaging concept themselves. An additional objective is to have the crewmember develope of his or her own plans using advanced autonomous planning software.
a. Autonomous Crew Procedure Development and Execution: Delayed communication forces mission crews and their vehicles to be more autonomous. Crews must learn to do their work without the (often instantaneous) outside assistance currently available from Mission Control. Procedure owners also bear part of the burden of autonomous operations: they must learn how to write procedures that do not require calls to Mission Control and that contain enough extra information so that crews can perform them with no outside help. The procedure owners must also develop methods to train crewmembers to operate autonomously. Crews and flight controllers involved in this investigation gain valuable insight into how communication delay drives the design, construction, and operation of hardware and software for future deep-space systems.
b. Text Messaging Evaluation: Past and present ground-based simulated deep-space exploration missions such as Desert Research and Technology Studies (DRATS) and NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) include delayed voice and data communication. Operators in those tests report that text messaging is an effective supplement for delayed or restricted voice communication. The objective of this investigation is to evaluate text messaging in a real spaceflight operational environment with restricted voice communication. The results, in combination with past and ongoing work in DRATS, NEEMO, and other space flight analogs, inform future operational use of text messaging when voice is ineffective.
The ISTAR Communication Delay Preparation investigation helps future crews traveling to Mars or a near-Earth asteroid to work more independently. Current techniques rely on prompt radio communications between spacecraft crews and mission controllers on the ground, but this will be hindered as humans venture farther away from Earth, and radio signals are delayed by the long distance. New tools and techniques developed in this study are crucial to the success of future deep-space exploration.
Although the speed of light allows for near-instantaneous communications on Earth, procedures that allow crews to work more independently could improve efficiency and safety in a wide range of industries.
The crew performs the autonomous crew procedure test while completing routine work they do on ISS as part of normal operations. On average, each USOS crewmember performs one autonomous procedure per month. The day's schedule includes time for procedure review before the task begins, and time for a debrief with MCC after the procedure is complete. The schedule also allows some extra time in case the crew runs into a problem and has to read more background information or perform extra procedure steps. In addition to the crew debrief, ground operators complete a debrief form after each autonomous procedure.
The text messaging test enlists each USOS crewmember for an average of one working afternoon per month and includes normally scheduled tasks that require at least moderate interaction between crew and ground. Operations planners schedule the test period so that it does not include tasks of a critical nature or tasks that need direct voice communication for crew or vehicle safety. The crew participants do not call MCC on the radio during the test. Instead, they use a text messaging application. In MCC, the Capsule Communicator (Capcom) uses the same application to reply to the crew, and the Flight Director and other flight controllers are able to read the messages to and from the crew just as they listen to space-to-ground voice communications today. As with the autonomous procedure tests, the schedule reserves time for a debrief after the work period. It also includes extra time for the crew to type and read text, which may take longer than speaking and listening on the radio. Ground operators involved in the test also complete debrief forms afterward.
Crew Autonomous Scheduling Exercise: For deep space exploration missions, there are some phases of the mission where the crew would benefit from having some measure of control of their schedule. It is good for the crew psyche on long exploration missions to have ownership of their daily activities. During some timeframes that are not complex, they should have a say as to how they conduct their day following mission priorities and guidelines. Autonomous scheduling exercises have been conducted in the DRATS ground analog, and it will be continued on ISS. These crew autonomous scheduling exercises begin with one crewmember using a planning tool on board ISS to build a portion of a crew day. The crew is given all necessary information to perform basic scheduling operations. The first exercise entails scheduling nominal workday activities (i.e. sleep sessions, meals, etc.). The crew then gives feedback on use of the tool, the adequacy of the scheduling information, and other information. The scheduling exercises get more complex, introducing resource de-conflicting, scheduling exercise sessions for the crewmembers, scheduling simple sequences, and moving up to sequences with minimal resources. Crew continues to give feedback on how the planning tools and the information works with the exercises. Lessons learned are used to improve the planning tool sets to be given to the crew to use as well as improve the resource and mission priority information that we send the crew. Each USOS crew performs the autonomous crew scheduling exercises and provides feedback. After the first sessions, feedback is incorporated into the next session and presented to the crew to perform.
For autonomous crew procedure tests, the crew performs procedures that the responsible flight control teams have specifically modified for crew autonomy. For text messaging tests, participating crewmembers conduct their nominal ISS tasks during each xDTO test day, using text instead of voice to communicate with MCC. The ISTAR team has established test wave-off criteria in case an emergency occurs on ISS, a higher-priority activity must replace the scheduled test, the crew falls far behind the timeline, the crew becomes concerned about damaging Station hardware, or there is another valid reason to terminate the test. The same protocols apply to the autonomous planning exercises.
Ground Based Results Publications
Beisert SC, Rodriggs MA, Moreno F, Korth D, Gibson S, Lee YH, Eagles DE. Development and execution of autonomous procedures onboard the International Space Station to support the next phase of human space exploration. AIAA Space 2013 Conference & Exposition, San Diego, CA; 2013 September 10-12 16 pp.
Analog Missions and Field Testing