HST SM4: Operations Control

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HST SM4: Operations Control
07.17.08
 
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Keith Walyus
Operations Manager, HST SM4

The STOCC is the Space Telescope Operations Control Center. And in the STOCC is where we control Hubble, we control it on a day to day basis. So all the all the activities we do, the pointing of the telescope at the different targets and the different stars, the different galaxies, getting the data back down, sending commands up to tell it where to point, moving it, orienting it into different positions, all that originates in the STOCC.

We have a crew that’s there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week controlling the telescope.
In normal day-to-day operations, we don’t perform the science here, we’re really running the telescope, the scientists are up at the science institute in Baltimore. So the data is going to come back down through us and then get sent up to the scientists in Baltimore where they decode the data and understand what the pictures mean.

It’s a different operational atmosphere for a servicing mission verse nominal operations. For regular day-to-day, we only have about 3 or so people really watching the telescope. And telescopes are built very robustly if they have a problem they can take care of them selves. They put themselves into a safe state, then we go back and isolate the problem, to see what happened later on.

The difference is during a servicing mission; the astronauts can only be out for 6 hours roughly at a time. And that’s because of a limit of how much oxygen and water they carry onboard. So if a problem occurs, we don’t have the luxury of talking about it and debating what the right course of action is. We have to take action right away. We have a team of experts on console, somebody’s watching the power, somebody’s watching the communications, somebody’s watching how the telescope will point and if they see a problem in one of those subsystems, they alert the rest of the team and we have to quickly diagnose the problem and come up with a resolution. Because the astronauts can’t stand around, becaue if they are standing around then something is not going to get done.

So after we get released from the shuttle, we are going to go through a series of commissioning exercises to make sure that each of these cameras is working correctly, each of these instruments. So, we are going to test them out over a series of months to make sure that the picture that we hope to get is really there. And, just like when you use a new camera, we have to play with it a little bit to try to get the exact focus, exact orientation, so it’s working correctly. So, it realy takes about 4 to 5 months after we’re released from the shuttle before the telescope is completely back and working and operational again.

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