Room K4 of the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich, Germany. 9 August 2004

Columbus Control Centre, Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany

ESA's Columbus Control Centre (Col-CC) supports the European Columbus laboratory now that it is an integral part of the ISS. Col-CC is situated at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) facility in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich, Germany.

The Control Centre is the direct link to Columbus in orbit. The centre's main functions are to command and control the Columbus laboratory systems, to coordinate operations of the European payloads on board the ISS and to operate the European ground communications network.

Command and control of systems

In commanding and controlling the systems of the Columbus laboratory, Col-CC makes sure that astronauts working within Columbus have a safe and comfortable environment in which to work and that the payload facilities have the necessary system support in order to function properly.

This includes monitoring and configuring, by remote command, the life support systems to maintain air quality, the power supply to experiment facilities, and systems for removal of heat from experiment facilities.

Mission Control, Houston
The ISS Flight Control Room at the Mission Control Centre in Houston

Monitor and control experiment facilities

European and non-European astronaut activities inside Columbus are monitored and coordinated from the Columbus Control Centre. The Centre also holds overall responsibility for such issues as safety in the Columbus laboratory under the overall authority of the ISS Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas.

The Columbus Control Centre reacts to any changes during the mission, coordinating decisions and establishing priorities should any change interfere with the European experiments inside Columbus.

The Columbus laboratory has experimental facilities both internally and externally covering a multitude of experiments over the course of its lifetime. The involvement of the astronauts with these experiments could range from a high degree of interaction to activity limited to the integration and removal of the experiment from its processing location.

Any autonomous activities of the Columbus laboratory systems and experiment facilities are monitored and coordinated through the Columbus Control Centre. The Columbus systems are configured as and when necessary to account for alterations in procedures or a change within the payload facilities.

A network operations centre

Network Equipment Room at the Columbus Control Centre
Network Equipment Room at the Columbus Control Centre

All data coming from Columbus is routed by the Columbus Control Centre, exercising its role as network operations centre. The engineering data is archived at Col-CC whereas the scientific and relevant experiment and facility data is distributed to de-centralised User Support and Operations Centres or USOCs, where these are processed and archived.

The USOCs are based in national centres distributed throughout Europe and are responsible for the specific operation of the ESA payload and experiment facilities within the Columbus laboratory. At these centres scientific investigators can monitor, or be linked to, their experiments.

The Columbus Control Centre is responsible for distributing data to the USOCs and receiving information from them such as requests for resources and reconfiguration of Columbus systems in support of experiments and payload facility operations. Such information is fed into the mission planning process that generates timelines for flight controllers and astronauts.

the European Astronaut Centre
The European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany

The Columbus Control Centre is also linked to the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, which is responsible for medical support, monitoring, and safety of ESA astronauts during missions.

Linked to international partners

Since the Columbus laboratory itself hosts non-European experiments such as US payload facilities, decisions taken such as changes in scheduling are coordinated with the ISS international partners. For this reason the Columbus Control Centre is connected to the ISS Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, the Huntsville Operations Support Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and to the ISS Mission Control Centre in Moscow.

Further to its functions of command and control of Columbus laboratory systems, as well as the coordination of the Columbus payload operations, the Columbus Control Centre is responsible for operating the ground communications network that provides communication services (voice, video and data) to a large number of sites: ESA Operations Management at ESA/ESTEC; the USOCs; the European Astronaut Centre; industrial engineering support sites; and to the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Control Centre in Toulouse, France.

ATV-CC during rendezvous simulation
The ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, France receives communications services from the Columbus Control Centre

Two control rooms

The Columbus Control Centre has two control rooms: one for real-time operation control and one for preparation activities, such as the training of controllers, simulations, etc. The second control room also acts as a backup for the first control room.

A back-up control centre, which can take over operations in case of a major disaster such as fire in the control facility, is provided on site at DLR Oberpfaffenhofen, but not located in the same building.

Flight Control Team

The Integrated Columbus Control Centre Flight Control Team is a joint DLR and EADS Astrium team. This mission control service is provided as part of the overall end-to-end operations service delivered by EADS Astrium as the ISS Industrial Operator.

The Flight Control Team is led by DLR flight directors and is under the overall supervision of an ESA Mission Director based at DLR Oberpfaffenhofen. The Col-CC operations teams provided 7 days/week, 24 hours/day operations support during the Columbus launch and assembly mission. Thereafter, the Col-CC operations are tailored to the payload operations needs.

Last update: 13 August 2009

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