NASA Spinoff

Programs Automate Complex Operations Monitoring

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Kennedy Space Center, just off the east coast of Florida on Merritt Island, has been the starting place of every human space flight in NASA’s history. It is where the first Americans left Earth during Project Mercury, the terrestrial departure point of the lunar-bound Apollo astronauts, as well as the last solid ground many astronauts step foot on before beginning their long stays aboard the International Space Station. It will also be the starting point for future NASA missions to the Moon and Mars and temporary host of the new Ares series rockets designed to take us there.

Since the first days of the early NASA missions, in order to keep up with the demands of the intricate and critical Space Program, the launch complex—host to the large Vehicle Assembly Building, two launch pads, and myriad support facilities—has grown increasingly complex to accommodate the sophisticated technologies needed to manage today’s space missions. To handle the complicated launch coordination safely, NASA found ways to automate mission-critical applications, resulting in streamlined decision-making. One of these methods, management software called the Control Monitor Unit (CMU), created in conjunction with McDonnell Douglas Space & Defense Systems, has since left NASA, and is finding its way into additional applications.

Partnership

altCommand and Control Technologies Corporation (CCT), of Titusville, Florida, was founded in 1997 with the express purpose of commercializing technologies developed by NASA. A team of McDonnell Douglas contractors at Kennedy had helped develop CMU to manage NASA’s complex space station checkout. Realizing that this software had applications outside of the NASA realm, they formed CCT and licensed the software usage rights from NASA (Spinoff 1999). Two years after its founding, CCT was named Kennedy’s “Small Business Contractor of the Year,” and the company has continued supporting the Space Agency with cutting-edge software.

As CCT’s founders realized, a lot of the same management technologies created for NASA launches apply to other complex yet critical operations. CCT has therefore found applications outside of its NASA work helping the military at weapons test ranges, protecting the borders, and it has the potential to work with large industrial processes, like monitoring and managing power plants.

Product Outcome

CCT delivers products, engineering expertise, and support for aerospace, industrial, security, and defense applications. At the core of its capabilities is the software initially developed with NASA and significantly improved over the last 12 years by CCT, marketed commercially as Command and Control Toolkit (CCTK). A turnkey system, the software is customizable to a wide array of intricate situations and capable of handling complex data in real time.

CCTK is robust and easy to use. It has a graphical interface and is flexible, easily configurable for real-time situational awareness, and capable of handling millions of data, command, event, and message transactions. It runs on any standard personal computer platform and can be customized by the company or directly by each user, depending on need.

CCT’s software is capable of simultaneously handling incoming information from varied sources, while still calculating for a variety of additional factors, including safety and engineering aspects. A prime example of this flexibility is the work CCT is conducting at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Managed by Goddard Space Flight Center, Wallops is a launch site used by not only NASA, but by the military and the research community. While the launch facility already offers the capacity and expertise needed to enable frequent flight opportunities for a diverse customer base, it expects that in the coming years, it will become increasingly called upon for commercial space launches.