Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
For all the data gathered by the space shuttle while in orbit, NASA engineers are just as concerned about the information it generates on the ground. From the moment the shuttle’s wheels touch the runway to the break of its electrical umbilical cord at 0.4 seconds before its next launch, sensors feed streams of data about the status of the vehicle and its various systems to Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle crews. Even while the shuttle orbiter is refitted in Kennedy’s orbiter processing facility, engineers constantly monitor everything from power levels to the testing of the mechanical arm in the orbiter’s payload bay. On the launch pad and up until liftoff, the Launch Control Center, attached to the large Vehicle Assembly Building, screens all of the shuttle’s vital data. (Once the shuttle clears its launch tower, this responsibility shifts to Mission Control at Johnson Space Center, with Kennedy in a backup role.)
Ground systems for satellite launches also generate significant amounts of data. At Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, across the Banana River from Kennedy’s location on Merritt Island, Florida, NASA rockets carrying precious satellite payloads into space flood the Launch Vehicle Data Center with sensor information on temperature, speed, trajectory, and vibration.
The remote measurement and transmission of systems data—called telemetry—is essential to ensuring the safe and successful launch of the Agency’s space missions. When a launch is unsuccessful, as it was for this year’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite, telemetry data also provides valuable clues as to what went wrong and how to remedy any problems for future attempts.
All of this information is streamed from sensors in the form of binary code: strings of ones and zeros. One small company has partnered with NASA to provide technology that renders raw telemetry data intelligible not only for Agency engineers, but also for those in the private sector.
Ulyssix Technologies Inc., of Frederick, Maryland, has a long-standing and comprehensive relationship with NASA beginning with the company’s founding in 2000. A woman-owned small business focused on supporting the telemetry ground-based market, Ulyssix provides a range of telemetry processing solutions. “Pretty much all of our products are in use at different NASA facilities,” says Glenn Rosenthal, the company’s president and CEO. Beyond shuttle and rocket telemetry at Kennedy and Cape Canaveral, Ulyssix products are used for monitoring sounding rocket launches at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and for Glenn Research Center simulations for the Constellation Program. The company is also exploring collaboration with Langley Research Center to provide support for wind tunnel testing of the Orion crew exploration vehicle.
In 2007, Ulyssix entered into a Space Act Agreement with Kennedy. The ongoing partnership allows NASA and the company to share resources to further the development of Ulyssix’s pulse code modulation (PCM) processor board—the TarsusPCM, currently in use by the Center for space shuttle and rocket launches—and related software for the benefit of both parties. Ulyssix’s highly versatile TarsusPCM processing board can perform a range of data acquisition and telemetry processing functions, allowing it to bit synchronize (recover the speed of the data transmission), frame synchronize (group the ones and zeros), and decommutate (separate the frame block into individual words that correspond to measurement values) binary code telemetry data. In simple terms, the technology translates the data into understandable measurements to be fed into display systems for engineer analysis. The TarsusPCM is also outfitted with a full PCM simulator that allows engineers to run tests using past data. The device can additionally record live data and then feed that data through the board’s simulator as though it were real-time information. Under the agreement, Ulyssix has also been working with Dryden Flight Research Center, which utilizes these latter capabilities for aeronautical testing involving drone aircraft.