Software applications for mission planning

During the last five decades DLR/GSOC has been responsible for the preparation and execution of many manned and unmanned space missions. Effective and professional planning is an essential factor for the success.

Mission Planning is a highly complex process which requires:

  • Collecting and analyzing of information, resources and requirements
  • Planning of all on-board activities of an unmanned or manned spacecraft
  • Sophisticated, intelligent and fast tools to support mission preparation tasks and mission execution tasks
  • Automatic and interactive generation of the mission timeline
  • Production of all necessary outputs and documentation

Experienced scientists of the GSOC mission planning team have developed an own planning system for the optimization and coordination of all activities onboard of a spacecraft. It is being continuously enhanced to meet new requirements by adopting new planning concepts.

The GSOC planning system - a well established and proven tool suite

  1. Successfully tested in manned missions like Spacelab, D-2, X-SAR/SRTM, MIR
  2. Successfully implemented during scientific satellite missions (CHAMP, GRACE 1&2, TerraSAR-X und TanDEM-X).

It can be configured in various ways to meet a broad range of planning problems. Its main components are:

  • PLATO – An extremely fast and intelligent planning tool
    The strengths are the descriptive and flexible modeling capabilities and the high-performant multi-threaded engine with rich support for creating a custom algorithm. Generic algorithms are available, which which can be combined and extended using a flexible plugin mechanism and which can be used to cover the most common scheduling requirements. PLATO may be used as ‚stand-alone‘ library within fully automated planning systems (current example: the missions TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X).
  • PINTA (Program for Interactive Timeline Analysis) – An interactive planning and visualization tool
    It is ideally suited for the performing of the planning process from the definition of resources and tasks through automatic scheduling. With the aid of conflict indicators and resource usage indicators an intuitive and straight-forward timeline modification is possible. PINTA works as the interface to the mission planning database and PLATO.
  • TimOnWeb – A flexible visualization tool for the mission timeline.
  • SCOTA - Current generation of mission analysis and event calculation software with advanced visualization support
    It supports the most commonly used orbit propagator models (SGP4, SGP8, etc) for different mission requirements. Depending on the trajectory and attitude of the considered spacecraft, a number of events can be calculated and visualized in 2D and/or 3D graphics. Examples for these events are day/night periods, satellite visibility and target opportunities. Furthermore, the software also supports spacecraft groundtrack real-time plotting.
  • SPOT (Swath Preview and Ordering Tool) – An interactive visualization and ordering tool
    SPOT (Swath Preview and Ordering Tool) is a graphical user interface provided with functions from the SCOTA library. It allows the visualization of satellite swaths for chosen maximum looking angles. The user can also apply it to calculate target visibilities of dedicated spacecraft based on currently loaded TwoLineElements (TLEs) and pre-configured imaging modes and to display these on an interactive map. Furthermore it prepares consistent PlanningRequests from the chosen target acquisition opportunities, which can be sent to the planning and scheduling system of the according mission and contain all necessary planning information.

This tool suite is continuously enhanced. Moreover, the GSOC mission planning team is also engaged in the new development of mission planning software on the following two fields:

  • Highly dynamic planning and scheduling
  • Onboard planning autonomy: The goal is to make as much use of the resources given onboard a spacecraft as possible and to enable reacting to events that haven’t been known during the ground-based planning run. Such events can include cloud coverage or to the detection of interesting contents in newly acquired data. Therefore, an additional software component shall be embedded into the onboard software that performs near-real-time re-planning and re-commanding. This happens without creating conflicts on constraints or disturbing the ground-generated base command-timeline for the ‘conventional’ Earth observation mission that has to take place in parallel. To achieve this, the onboard component is assisted by respectively extended functions of the ground mission planning, which prepare complex calculations in advance and provide the results via tele-commands.One of the projects on this topic will be the VAMOS experiment (Verification of Autonomous MissionPlanning Onboard a Spacecraft) on the BIROS satellite (part of the FireBIRD mission), where, on the one hand, new activities are prepared by virtue of on-board detected events and, on the other hand, all on-ground and on-board prepared activities are checked for feasibility in real-time and executed if indicated.

Falk Mrowka
German Aerospace Center

Space Operations and Astronaut Training

Tel: +49 8153 28-1270

Fax: +49 8153 28-1451

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