Press Release

SwRI improves space ground support operations using Internet, database, and Java technologies

By SpaceRef Editor
August 14, 2002
Filed under ,

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

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.”

Demonstrations of these systems are available upon request. Contact Rob
Thorpe at (210) 522-2848 or

SpaceRef staff editor.