Mission Control looks to update floor plan in post-Shuttle era

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With the Space Shuttle Program now an element of NASA’s past, the U.S. agency is pressing forward with evaluations on how best to make use of the floor space at Mission Control Center Houston now that a major element of the agency’s focus for the past 30+ years has been retired.


Floor Space at a premium as clients bid for space allocation:

As related by the Mission Control Center Floor Space presentation from the Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) at the Johnson Space Center, “The purpose of this presentation is to provide MOD with information about scheduling constraints, expectations, and desires in the Bldg 30 Complex.”

To accomplish this task, the MOD broke the list of costumers and workspaces down into four categories: Confirmed Future Customers, Current Customers, Potential New Customers, and Shifting Existing Customers.

Confirmed Future Customers:

In all, three entities fell into the category of “confirmed future customers,” including the James Webb Space Telescope team, the OFT-1 team, and the Remote Refueling Manipulator team from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

For the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) team, the MOD presentation – available for download on L2 – states that testing of the support equipment for the long-planned replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope is due to begin in October 2011 with an initial team of 10 members.

This team is expected to grow in 2012 to 20 members before finally reaching its operational level in 2016 of 75 people – the number needed for full-time, instant support of the JWST.

An initial idea for where to place this department is in the Space Shuttle Program’s Mission Evaluation Room (SSP MER).

The presentation notes that this could easily be accomplished by sectioning off half of the room. This would provide sufficient console space and resources for the eventual 75-member team.

Likewise, enough conference space would be available for the JWST team and, if necessary, the conference space could be acquired from other areas should the needs of the JWST team expand.

Likewise, the proposed use of the SSP MER for the JWST team would allow for the installation and housing of the necessary LAN (Local Area Network) and tech support equipment for the Hubble’s successor.

But the JWST team is not the only confirmed future customer that will require space. The OFT-1 crew will also need a permanent location inside MCC-H (Mission Control Center – Houston).

The requirements for this customer are listed as “43 workstations at last count. FCR, MPSR, and MER functionality, Linux boxes, Harris OS Comet, and WFCR, RFCR, ISS MER” support will also be required.

Last by not least, the final confirmed future customer is the Remote Refueling Manipulator team from the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).

With an initial roll-in date of December 2011, the team of nearly 30 people will require only a POCC area, MAS PCs, and Linux workstations.

Current Customers:

However, finding space from former Shuttle assets for incoming customers is not the only issue facing the space allocation task force; it’s also the needs of current customers already operating in a limited (or limiting) space.

The first such current customer to be mentioned in the presentation is the Desert RATS (Desert Research and Technology Studies) AMES.

Since starting up operations in May 2011, the DRATS team has been using limited MCC space for “Approx. 1-2 days a week every month, then two weeks during the summer.”

In the coming weeks, the DRATS team will be moving to Building 30M and a specific room “already agreed between MOD and DRATS.”

The room itself is isolated and – if needed – can be used for other groups during times when DRATS is not using the facility.

The room does not contain a conference space, but a conference room is available close by and can be scheduled when needed.

The room, though small, does contain enough workstations and resources for the team’s needs, and it is a “Less intrusive location [to] work [from].”

Likewise, the Amine Swingbed team, which monitors and works a Carbon Dioxide scrubber on the ISS, is now housed in Building 30M at the Johnson Space Center.

This team came online just before the launch of STS-135 and continues routine operation “several days a month,” notes the MOD presentation.

The team currently requires four workstations and four MAS PCs that use Marshall Space Flight Center software.

Last but not least on the list of current customers is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) team, functioning as a backup control center for CERN.

The team is housed in a divided room on the second floor of Building 30M at JSC and currently uses two PCs for monitoring of AMS systems.

In the event that this was called upon in a backup control center scenario, two more PCs would be installed in the overall, undivided space to accommodate the AMS team’s needs.

Potential New Customers:

Another task given to the space allocation team was to identify the needs of potential incoming customers to MCC-H.

Specifically, OCT AR&D, an autonomous rendezvous and docking system with a “to-be-launched satellite” was found to require, if housed at MCC-H, “OFT-1 like support: Front room operators, a backroom containing MPSR and MER support, and 12 people total for a full team for proximity, rndz, and grapple ops.”

The current schedule shows testing of this satellite and system in 2013-14 with a launch sometime in 2014. The entire mission would last approximately 70 days.

Moreover, Orbital was also listed as a potential future customer for its commercial resupply contracts with NASA for the International Space Station; however, no specifications on equipment or workspace needs were listed in the MOD presentation.

Lastly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Space Traffic Management Group was listed as a potential customer from May 2012 to May 2013. The potential of placing this group on the 1st floor of building 30M in the “old Tape Library area” is being investigated.

Shifting Existing Customers:

Finally, the MOD floor space presentation group addressed the potential need to shift existing customers to other locations within MCC-H.

The DoD (Department of Defense) was the first customer listed in this section. Specifically, the presentation notes that “DOD has approached MOD about moving from their current location on the 3rd floor of 30M to the SSP MER area on the 3rd floor of 30M.”

At the time of this presentation, the DoD’s request was “under consideration.”

Likewise, the VVO and TOPO teams are candidates for relocation. Currently housed in the Traj MPSR, the groups are sometimes forced to the move to the BFCR (Backup Flight Control Room).

The teams will soon be forced to relocate to “temporary locations when MCC-21 begins construction in the Traj MPSR area.

“Current preliminary, draft plan is to provide a permanent location on the 3rd floor of 30S,” notes the presentation.

Issues, Concerns, and Recommendations:

As with any plan, especially one in its infancy, there remain a number of concerns and issues with the reallocation of space within MCC-H, not the least of which being the “natural tendency toward expansion.”

Specifically, almost all departments/groups at MCC-H have submitted or are submitting requests for either more space or different space.

This also includes requests for extra hardware, different hardware, and that “excess” hardware identified by the Shuttle Transition and Retirement Team be left in place until further studies can be conducted, something that would limit the available space post-Shuttle.

Thus, a forward plan was developed to “Continue to work on incremental time-phased floor plans, work with MCC-21 to define transition and final MCC-21 floor space requirements, and create a MOFD (Mission Operations Facilities Division) Floor Plan Process to approve and allocate floor space for new customers.”

Such MCC-21 plans include preliminary redesigns to Flight Control Rooms (FCRs), such as new, modern consoles.

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