European Space Agency

Euromir 95 Operations and Mission Planning

P. Granseuer

Operations and Ground Segment Division, ESA Directorate of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity, ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

J.D. Schiemann

Space Station Utilisation Division, ESA Directorate of Manned Spaceflight and Microgravity, ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

M. Bridle

Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Euromir 95 mission began with the launch on 3 September 1995 and a planned duration of 135 days. It was subsequently extended so that the landing eventually took place on 29 February 1996, flight day 180 of the mission log. It has been ESA's longest manned space mission and was conducted to gain experience of long-duration space flight, working with the Russian space programme, and as a precursor for the Columbus/International Space Station operational concepts.

The mission operations
The Euromir 95 crew consisted of the Russian cosmonauts Commander Yuri Gidzenko and Engineer Sergei Avdeev, and ESA Astronaut Thomas Reiter. Thomas Reiter had been trained to undertake onboard engineering tasks, experiment operations and Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA). The payload that they were to operate consisted of more than 500 kg of equipment which was uploaded with the Spektr module in May 1995, two Progress flights in July and October 1995, and the Soyuz capsule. This equipment supported a scientific programme consisting of 41 experiments in the life sciences, materials science, technology and space-science disciplines. Following the extension of the mission, a third Progress upload in December 1995 was negotiated to include additional equipment required to support the extension of the science programme.

Figure 2. Cosmonauts Gidzenko (right) and Avdeev at work during Euromir 95

The payload download of 50 kg utilised the Space Shuttle missions STS-74 in November 1995, STS-76 in March 1996, STS-79 in September 1996 and the Soyuz capsule used for the crew's return in February 1996.

The operational infrastructure included a Payload Operations Control Centre team at the German Space Operations Centre (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhoffen, a small team providing the interface to the Mir Flight Control Centre (TsUP=Tsentr Upravleniya Polyotami) staff in Kaliningrad, User Support Operation Centres (USOC) in six countries providing facility support personnel and facilities for Principal Investigator (PI) support, and User Home Base (UHB) capabilities at PI laboratories or work places throughout Europe. Euromir 95 was the first mission for which such a highly decentralised operational approach had been used for PI, facility and engineering support.

The payload operations were completed successfully with almost all experiments logging more operations time and data than originally planned, thanks mainly to the mission extension. The schedules for experiment operations were usually maintained, with some replanning due to experiment and system troubleshooting and repairs. Some maintenance was required during the mission, including the uploading of spare parts with the Progress flights in October and December in order to repair failed units.

The mission was highly representative of future Space Station operations as it included cooperative joint operations with Russian entities and NASA, long-duration operations (initially 4.5 months extended during the mission to 6 months), uploads of equipment on several Progress flights, and downloads using both Soyuz and Space Shuttle flights. The mission also included two EVAs - the first by an ESA astronaut - by Thomas Reiter, the second of which was added after the mission extension announced in October 1995.

Figure 1. The approach of the Space Shuttle 'Atlantis' viewed from Mir

Mir's operational capabilities and constraints
The main characteristics of Mir and its operational infrastructure that affect payload operations are the communications systems, power availability and command and data system limitations.

The communications coverage is mainly provided by ground stations within the former USSR, which implies eight to ten passes per day of between 8 and 25 min duration depending on the ground track. The timing of these passes varied throughout the mission, sometimes restricting the communication periods available to the crew, who operate on a fixed shift basis. The Russian LUCH data-relay satellites are therefore typically used once or twice per day to cover periods of limited ground-station coverage or special events.

Euromir space-to-ground access was primarily used for station operations, payload activities, private medical conferences as required, family contacts typically once per week, audio and video conferences, and public-relations (PR) events approximately once per month. There was minimal voice communications in support of payload operations at times of limited ground passes during the crew working day, when additional crew were onboard Mir, as during the handover periods or the STS-74 Shuttle docking, or when critical operations were taking place such as EVAs or system troubleshooting. Video of sufficient quality for PR events or science evaluation depends on use of LUCH, and was therefore also limited. One science video downlink was scheduled each week so that science- or engineering-related video recorded on board could be downlinked during these sessions.

Power availability for payloads did not have a significant impact on mission planning except for the TITUS furnace, operation of which had to be rescheduled due to limitations originating from other systems, such as the ability of the station's thermal-control system to remove dissipated heat. TITUS was therefore operated overnight when there was adequate power available, at which time the microgravity environment was also optimum in that the crew was sleeping and no other major operations were in progress.

During the mission there was no real-time science data downlink and most payloads were designed to store their own data for scheduled downlinking during nominally four of the 10 min ground-station passes each day. Data downlinking was via a direct telemetry interface for two experiments, TITUS using its own computer interface, and for other experiments using the NASA MIPS-2 system. No direct payload command uplink was used during the mission from GSOC or the user centres. Commands for the European Science Exposure Facility (ESEF) were sent from TsUP by the Russian ground controllers, and the video control experiment, VISC, was controlled from TsUP over a modem link.

Euromir 95 operational infrastructure and teams
A distributed infrastructure was implemented to support payload operations from Western Europe and experiment teams from national User Support Operations Centres or User Home Bases. Financial and schedule constraints meant that this system was implemented mainly using existing control centres and communications systems, a matter of months before the mission.

SCOPE operations
The main Payload Operations Control Centre, the System for the Control of the Operations of Payloads for Euromir (SCOPE) was located at GSOC in Oberpfaffenhofen (D) and based on an existing facility used previously for the Spacelab-D2 mission and other national satellite projects. The SCOPE team's responsibilities included payload operations management and coordination with TsUP, ESTEC, the European Astronauts Centre (EAC) and the USOCs, real-time operations coordination of nominal and contingency payload operations, scientific and technology experiment activity coordination, mission-planning activities for all planning stages, flight-data-file support activities, data management for onboard data downlink requests and ground distribution, communications management and coordination and medical coordination.

The key operations personnel located at SCOPE were the Euromir Payload Operations Manager, Planner, Data and Facility Coordinator, Communications Coordinator, Medical Coordinator, Life Science Discipline Coordinator, and a Translator.

TsUP operations
The Russian Mir Operations Control Centre (TsUP) was responsible for overall activity on the station. A small ESA EuroMir Mission Operations Support Team (MOST) was based at TsUP for direct interfacing with the Russian control teams. They included a MOST Coordinator as the prime interface with the TsUP Shift Flight Director and operational staff, a Crew Interface Coordinator, a Crew Surgeon interfacing with the Russian medical team, and an EAC Representative providing support both to the ESA Astronaut and his family.

ESTEC operations
The Euromir Project Manager used ESTEC as his main location during the mission, travelling to TsUP or SCOPE for specific events such as launch and docking, EVAs and landing. The ESA Facility Interface Engineers were mainly located at ESTEC, and the Science Discipline Coordinators were available at ESTEC when not located at SCOPE. The two Quality Assurance and Safety Engineers were based at their normal work locations, one at ESTEC the other at MUSC. ESTEC was also used as an operations centre for the ESA Technology Experiments, with specific Principal Investigators being available there when required.

EAC operations
The European Astronauts Centre personnel involved in the Euromir project all provided support from their home base in Cologne. This included astronaut support, astronaut family support, and advice on astronautics- related issues. Support for the onboard laptop computer was also provided from EAC.

ESOC operations
ESOC in Darmstadt (D) was responsible for the development and subsequent operational support of the Interconnecting Ground Subnetwork (IGS) system. During the mission, ESOC personnel manned the IGS control position and were responsible for trouble-shooting and maintenance for the IGS and DICE-based communications systems. The PR events organised during the mission at various sites throughout Europe relied on a variety of communications systems depending on the available infrastructure, including portable DICE equipment and Codec/ISDN links.

USOC operations
For the mission itself, all Principal Investigator teams operated remotely from the SCOPE, except those from the local Munich area. Facility Responsible Centres (FRCs) were located throughout Europe, at the following sites:

Together with the ESA experiment engineers located at ESTEC, they coordinated the operations of the facility and provided the interface to the Principal Investigators (PIs). They were also responsible for routing data to the PI User Home Bases, after receipt from SCOPE. The support at each centre varied depending on the particular facility and the involvement of centre personnel in the facility's development and operations planning.

SROC in Brussels operated as an Experiment Support Centre (ESC) for the Belgian experimenters. It acted as a node for communications with the PI's university laboratories, to which connections were made using ISDN lines. These PIs then interfaced directly with the FRCs responsible for the facility which they were using.

For national PI experiment support, in countries not supported by an FRC or ESC, direct links to the appropriate FRC or SCOPE utilised general services such that the PIs could operate from their User Home Bases (UHB) as Internet/telephone sites. The Internet was used for both experiment and operational data services, while telephone access was provided to the Voice Intercom System (VIS) at SCOPE. One UHB used a DICE ground terminal to receive video downlinks. The UHBs were at Geneva, Villingen and Zurich in Switzerland, Bristol, Canterbury and London in England, Stockholm in Sweden, Maastricht in The Netherlands, and Berlin and Munich in Germany.

Standard daily operations
With a distributed operations scenario of the type implemented for Euromir 95, it was crucial that all personnel were aware of the operational events in which they should participate, based on a standard daily operations schedule.

The schedule included shift start and stop times, voice conferences to review real-time status, any instructions to the crew, or reactions to reports from them, briefings with the Crew Interface Coordinator (CIC), space-to-ground contacts, planning product generation, planning conferences, briefings with the project manager, shift handovers, and the generation of daily reports.

The ground operations plan was generated several days in advance, so that all personnel could review it on a regular basis. It included indications of when specific remote sites needed to be active in order to support ongoing operations. Certain events were kept at standard times, especially planning conferences as the maximum number of personnel were required to participate in them.

Prior to the mission, it was decided to have minimal manning at the weekends, with most staff only being on call. This did not always prove feasible, however, and extensive experiment operations were sometimes needed at those times, particularly at the beginning and end of the mission, and to recover time- critical life-science operations after troubleshooting or other activities had adversely affected the nominal plan. Weekend contact sessions were also often needed for PR events or to catch up on information to be transmitted to the crew, to have longer more general conversations with the ground teams beyond the purely technical discussions, and to support family contacts from Moscow and Germany.

Mission planning
An ESA astronaut working day of 8.5 h Monday to Friday, with weekends regarded as personal time, was used as the baseline for the pre-mission planning. This included 4.5 h for Euromir payload activities, 2 h of physical exercise, and 2 h for onboard engineering tasks. Particularly at the start of the mission, some time during the weekends was used for payload operations, and also later in the mission to catch up on experiment time lost due to maintenance activities. Towards the end of the mission, additional medical countermeasures and exercises were required, which reduced the time available for experiment operations. Despite these glitches in planning, all of the foreseen experiment objectives were achieved.

Other events that impacted on experiment operation time included the EVAs, which required a week of preparatory activity to check out the equipment, perform medical checks and take extra rest prior to these strenuous periods. The Progress, Soyuz and STS-74 dockings also ate into the time available for experiment operation.

Overall, however, the 42.5 h work week proved about right for a long-duration flight of this nature and should be used as the baseline for ESA's Space Station planning.

The mission planning cycle used by the Russians used the pre- mission plan as the baseline. From that, a Monthly Station Plan was derived and agreed with the Russian side. The next step included the bi-weekly generation of a Two-Week Plan and a Detailed Daily Plan four days in advance, which was uplinked to the crew on the day prior to its implementation.

There is a limited uplink capability to Mir for planning and procedure data, and therefore any short-lead-time/real-time information was transferred verbally during space-to-ground voice passes. After the Euromir 95 launch it was discovered that the Russians had a new modem link available for computer file transfers. This was subsequently used extensively for technical information, personal messages, PR and project information and proved very effective, particularly as these communications could be in English.

Despite some shortcomings in terms of planning documentation and a lack of flexibility to accommodate late changes, the Russian planning approach could certainly serve as a basis for the future planning activities associated with the International Space Station. It proved adequate in terms of the timing and quality of the resulting planning products for Euromir - the increment plan, one-month plan, two-week plans and detailed plans four days in advance - also ensuring that the many remotely located staff and PIs were available when needed, and the appropriate communications systems scheduled, for timely operations. The efficiency of the process can be further improved by having all planning constraint information available to the planning team and by applying the latest state-of-the-art planning tools. Moreover, extensive iteration loops with discipline experts and PIs need to be avoided in the day-to-day planning work.

The daily planning conference proved satisfactory for the Euromir mission needs. For the International Space Station a more relaxed scheme not requiring everyone to gather every day, but still retaining a regular scheme, is recommended. The geographically distributed staff not actively involved on a particular day can still follow the mission on a regular basis and plan their work days appropriately.

In Euromir's case, the planning conference was also used to convey general mission information as the maximum number of key personnel were monitoring proceedings at this time. Video conferencing was not used routinely, but this capability should certainly be available in future for special needs.

Crew information interface
It is important for long-duration missions to provide adequate communication links to the crew not only for the traditional things such as system- and experiment-related items, medical information and family contacts, but also more extensive personal mail, contacts with the extended family and friends, and confidential interfaces with the project management team. For Euromir, we were limited for these communications to voice contacts on space-to-ground channels and a packet link for computer files. None of these systems were truly confidential and computer files often contained a mixture of information types.

For future missions, implementation of the following systems and procedures is recommended:

  1. Clear responsibilities should be defined for the provision, review, uplinking and distribution of information provided to and received from the astronauts during long-duration flights, based on the nature of the information involved.

  2. The ground and flight data systems used for the transmission of the information should be designed to afford write/edit access only to agreed personnel responsible for processing that particular data, and read-only access to an agreed distribution list. The system should also archive the information uplinked and downlinked for later review on the same basis.

  3. Confidential or scrambled voice channels should be available not only from the Main Control Centre, but also from remote centres and for dial-in capabilities to facilitate family, medical and management contacts.

Figure 3. A view of the Mir Space Station from the docked Space Shuttle 'Atlantis'

Ground-operations aspects
The fact that the constant availability of support personnel cannot be ensured for long-duration missions means that the systems and procedures need to be designed to compensate for this eventuality. Adequate expertise and documentation must be maintained at the Control Centre (usually through the auspices of the Science Discipline Coordinators and Planners) to still allow quick and reliable responses when remote staff cannot be contacted.

The operations profiles of certain of the Euromir experiments and staffing shift arrangements meant that some personnel were away from their stations for extended periods. Summaries of operational impacts, changes, planning, problems, unexpected events, status on problem resolution, etc. therefore need to be provided methodically via the Operations Data System so that personnel who are not directly involved in the mission every day can access such information wherever they wish.

Finally, the Control Centre for future long-duration missions can be a more open-office-like environment with low separators, plenty of windows and good lighting, etc. as the staff will be expected to work standard 8 h+ days in this environment for long periods. The needs will therefore be quite different to those for short-duration missions such as the Shuttle flights, for which the traditional large open control-room setup is sufficient.

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Right Left Up Home ESA Bulletin Nr. 88.
Published November 1996.
Developed by ESA-ESRIN ID/D.