Operations Journal: Uplink - Commanding the Camera

Howdy! My name is Zack Bowles and I am one of the Uplink members of the LROC Operations team. Operations are mainly divided into Uplink and Downlink, with Uplink responsible for targeting images and generating command loads and Downlink is responsible for data integrity analysis and spacecraft/instrument monitoring. Uplink is also further subdivided into 2 components: Nominal and Special Targeting, with Nominal responsible for the majority of camera commanding while Special Targeting is responsible for planning slewed observations, calibrations, and any observation that requires coordination with the other LRO instruments.

Nominal Targeting consists of a wide variety of activities including Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) targeting, Wide Angle Camera (WAC) targeting, nightside calibration imaging, Polar campaign imaging, Data Volume management, and coordinated efforts with other instruments. With 600 - 800 images a day, amounting to about 450 Gigabits of information, that's a lot of stuff to keep track of! WHEW!! Luckily for us, much of what we do can be automated, just as the Downlink staff has mentioned. We have software called "autotarget," which takes care of our nominal dayside and nightside WAC imaging, and the nightside NAC imaging. We also use autotarget to "fill" in spaces between other carefully planned images. More data! More data!

We spend most of our time with the nominal, dayside NAC image plans. Our NAC images have a 0.5 m/pixel scale. That means each pixel is about the size of a small backpack! We can "see" different objects at about 3 times the pixel scale, so each of our NAC images provide the opportunity to study the Moon at about the scale of a chair or desk. Just enough to assess the meter-scale hazards the Lunar surface presents us to prepare for future landers and human exploration! As you can imagine, this requires a lot of concentration to pick out the areas which provide us with the most geology and engineering information.

To plan our NAC images, we use a software package called JMOON, developed right here on the ASU campus. We owe the basic functions of the software to the Mars Space Flight Facility folks who use JMars for mission planning and data analysis on many current/past Mars missions. The software displays the past acquired image stamps, the currently planned image coverage, Science Team Regions of Interest (ROIs), orbital position information, maps from past missions, other instrument maps from our mission (LRO), lighting conditions, and lunar geography. Once again, WHEW! Many things to filter through as we plan, but it is exciting to see all the products materialize as we continue through the mission, making our planning better than ever!

The most exciting feeling about this part of the Uplink Team is knowing you are responsible for all the data the Camera will be collecting that day. You have planned out a fantastic, brand new, never-before-seen, just-off-the-shelf, shiny, command load that will fuel science and exploration for generations to come. It's exhilarating and fulfilling to send that command load to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Facility and anticipate the beautiful images to come down from the spacecraft.

I think everyone here shares the same sentiment: "I love my job!"

Published by Zack Bowles on 15 August 2011