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




  • Led the user experience design effort: designed all front end user interface functionalities and visual, graphic elements for the ThinkDash product.  
  • Engaged in the user community and conducted in situ observations of operator processes: performed +25 hours of in-situ observations of SMAP operators during ORT exercises to understand how users worked with current AMPCS tools when monitoring SMAP telemetry data activity.   
  • Produced paper prototypes to test new telemetry visualization ideas: rapidly prototyped using low-cost, light weight techniques for simulated experiences of the new interaction with the ThinkDash system to get up-front user input before technical development.  





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.


This is the operations room. My team and I spent about +12 hours observing / conducting usability tests with the SMAP operations team in this room. 



The following are a few key use cases we observed in the
ORT observations that influenced the design concepts for Vortex:


Manual exporting/querying of telemetry data is time consuming, and operators are limited in their capacity to edit and display their subsystem's data. 


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.


"A-HA" Moment:

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. 









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.

This is the first paper prototype of the EVR Viewer and Histogram distribution for SMAP. Paper Prototypes helped the team understand how operators like to switch from time stamps in their EVR's to their EHA displays.

This is the first paper prototype of the EVR Viewer and Histogram distribution for SMAP.
Paper Prototypes helped the team understand how operators like to switch from time stamps in their EVR's to their EHA displays.



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. 





This is the workspace area for the operator to select and adjust the display of telemetry channels. 
Front End Web Development by Rachel Binx


This is the Library page. As the operator starts to accumulate and associate multiple channels within her/his subsystem, they can begin to save their displays in the Library.
Front End Web Development by Rachel Binx


The EVR histograms populate in real time. The operator can monitor progress and assess the direct messages at the bottom of the page. Selecting histograms and exporting that duration to either the channels and/or library allows the operator to assess the channel activity agains the EVR messaging.
Front End Web Development by Rachel Binx


VORTEX (originally ThinkDash)



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