displaying the health and safety of spacecraft.
Vortex (originally called 'ThinkDash') is a telemetry trending analysis and visualization tool for spacecraft operators. At all points of a spacecraft’s lifecycle, engineers on the ground assess the vehicle’s health and safety via telemetry, or the automated measurements sent from the spacecraft to Earth. Traditional telemetry analysis tools often reflected only instantaneous reports of telemetry, forcing the operator to manually query the data for tending behaviors. This manual process is tedious, and in the event that the spacecraft is in danger, this process can take up valuable time to produce meaningful results. Vortex allows operators to collect, organize, and monitor telemetry channels, as well as visualize the trending telemetry behavior in real time. Since the deployment of Vortex early in the year 2015, it has since been adopted by four other missions: the Curiosity (MSL) rover, Opportunity (MER) rover, Cassini, and Dawn.
Vortex users at the time of initial design were SMAP operators. Before pursuing potential visualization concepts for the spacecraft telemetry, my team and I spent several days interacting closely with the SMAP operations team through in-person interviews, and +12 hours observing the team’s Operational Readiness Tests (ORT’s). As mentioned above, the operations team for SMAP monitor separate components of the SMAP spacecraft, operators are categorized by subsystems. Each subsystem monitors specific telemetry channels. Through these user discussions, we were able to better understand the workflow of operators and how they triage the off-nominal events of a spacecraft based on EHA and EVR data.
The following are a few key use cases we observed in the
ORT observations that influenced the design concepts for Vortex:
USE CASE 01:
Manual exporting/querying of telemetry data is time consuming, and operators are limited in their capacity to edit and display their subsystem's data.
USE CASE 02:
Operators have many software tools to monitor at once. Many operators would have several tabs open and would just cycle through the tabs, assessing how certain spacecraft events impacted their subsystem. Some subsystems were able to hack together their own high level visualization of their subsystem; however these visuals were not able to scale to the other operators’ subsystems.
USE CASE 03: Centralization of associated telemetry channel readings was an important functionality. Furthermore, the ability to maintain and continuously
reference those same pairings of telemetry channels was key to a successful triage event as well.
Users need a tool that can be reactive, light weight, and experimental.
Operators have a series of hypotheses for interpreting what is happening on a spacecraft. They did not have a tool that could offer that resilience and necessary investigation tools to quickly assess telemetry activity in real time. We were not building dashboards, we were constructing the full picture of the spacecraft’s activity.
After observing the operators on SMAP utilize the available telemetry observing software tools, I developed a series of telemetry trending pages that would facilitate
the triaging and investigative interactions operators on SMAP would need to assess trending behavior.
CHANNEL WORKSPACE PAGE:
The initial concepts generated after observing the operators in action needed to be vetted through the broader operations team. The basic functionalities including channel association workspaces, EVR histograms, and Library collections, were compiled into a series of paper prototypes and assessed with the operations team. Paper prototypes reflected the intent of this new investigative tool for operators and helped build a relationship with our user community as well as quickly iterate on our notional designs.
VORTEX PAPER PROTOTYPE:
Not all of the prototypes were well documented, but below is a brief flip through of the paper prototype used to assess the main functionalities. Operators helped the designers better understand the metrics, annotations, and channel information operators would need to access during investigative procedures. Paper prototypes also afforded operators the ability to mark up and cross out elements of the page that did not comply with their ideal workflow. In total, roughly seven paper prototypes were generated by the designers and iterated on by the SMAP operators.
NASA JET PROPULSION LABORATORY Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP)
VORTEX (originally ThinkDash)
FULL TIME DESIGN WORK with NASA'S JPL