Mission Operations consists of three elements – mission coordination, imaging asset operation, and calibration.
The goals of every mission vary, but the fundamental requirements for mission operations remain the same. The SCIFLI team has found that the key to successful operations lies in fully understanding the way the nominal flight operations, the various off-nominal (abnormal) conditions, and maintaining a consistent level of heightened situational awareness prior to and during test flight operations. In this way the SCIFLI team can anticipate changes and switch to alternate, pre-defined plans quickly, or modify operations to suit the unanticipated as quickly as possible. This is all designed to be done with the least amount of intrusiveness to the flight test team, who will invariably be experiencing their own high level of workload.
Reaching this level of operation requires preparation prior to the mission. The SCIFLI team begins by working with the customer to determine the best way to follow the flight. Typically this has meant a tie in to the audio communication “loops” at the control center, as well as access to any video feeds. Also, the SCIFLI team benefits from being involved in mission simulations so that the sequence of events, the timing, and the way anomalies are handled can be studied and reviewed prior to the actual mission. This level of preparation has allowed the SCIFLI team to be extremely flexible in responding to mission delays, inclement weather, and significant changes to the baseline mission, such as shifting airborne assets from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean to cover Space Shuttle diversions from the Kennedy Space Center to Edwards Air Force Base – while simultaneously dodging a hurricane.
Imaging Asset Operation
The SCIFLI team works closely with organizations that deploy airborne, land based or sea based imaging assets. Each asset owner and each mission is different, so the level of direct interaction varies. The SCIFLI team can become involved to a high degree should the mission require it, such as obtaining clearances from the US Department of State to overfly foreign countries in support of science observations, or to coordinate airspace with the FAA and foreign air traffic control. The team has also supplied personnel to deploy with land based assets, as well as to provide transportation of small land based systems using NASA transport aircraft. However, this level of involvement varies, and is tailored to the requirements and budget of each mission. The SCIFLI team has also simply provided trajectory information and real time updates as to mission progress, and lets the asset owners be fully responsible for transportation and operation of their hardware.
The calibration of imaging assets is crucial to obtaining the highest quality data possible. Radiometric, spectral and spatial calibration of the optical equipment is conducted on each piece of equipment, and spot checks are constantly made to ensure that the equipment has not drifted from the calibration. The SCIFLI team can provide support to the asset operators to aid in the calibration efforts as deemed appropriate.