SOA allows scientists to plan spacecraft observations. It facilitates the identification of geometrically interesting times in a spacecraft’s orbit that a user can use to plan observations or instrument-driven spacecraft maneuvers. These observations can then be visualized multiple ways in both two- and three-dimensional views. When observations have been optimized within a spacecraft’s flight rules, the resulting plans can be output for use by other JPL uplink tools. Now in its eighth major version, SOA improves on these capabilities in a modern and integrated fashion.

SOA consists of five major functions: Opportunity Search, Visualization, Observation Design, Constraint Checking, and Data Output. Opportunity Search is a GUI-driven interface to existing search engines that can be used to identify times when a spacecraft is in a specific geometrical relationship with other bodies in the solar system. This function can be used for advanced mission planning as well as for making last-minute adjustments to mission sequences in response to trajectory modifications. Visualization is a key aspect of SOA. The user can view observation opportunities in either a 3D representation or as a 2D map projection.

Observation Design allows the user to orient the spacecraft and visualize the projection of the instrument field of view for that orientation using the same views as Opportunity Search. Constraint Checking is provided to validate various geometrical and physical aspects of an observation design. The user has the ability to easily create custom rules or to use official project-generated flight rules. This capability may also allow scientists to easily assess the cost to science if flight rule changes occur. Data Output allows the user to compute ancillary data related to an observation or to a given position of the spacecraft along its trajectory. The data can be saved as a tab-delimited text file or viewed as a graph.

SOA combines science planning functionality unique to both JPL and the sponsoring spacecraft. SOA is able to ingest JPL SPICE Kernels that are used to drive the tool and its computations. A Percy search engine is then included that identifies interesting time periods for the user to build observations. When observations are then built, flight-like orientation algorithms replicate spacecraft dynamics to closely simulate the flight spacecraft’s dynamics.

SOA v8 represents large steps forward from SOA v7 in terms of quality, reliability, maintainability, efficiency, and user experience. A tailored agile development environment has been built around SOA that provides automated unit testing, continuous build and integration, a consolidated Web-based code and documentation storage environment, modern Java enhancements, and a focus on usability.

This work was done by Robert J. Witoff, Carol A. Polanskey, Anna Marie A. Aguinaldo, Ning Liu, and Mark D. Hofstadter of Caltech; and Steven P. Joy of UCLA for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Dan Broderick at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-48529

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.