SSL is a global leader in integrated space technologies, delivering advanced systems for communications, exploration, data gathering, and next-generation services. SSL is a global leader in integrated space technologies, delivering advanced systems for communications, exploration, data gathering, and next-generation services.
Mission Control Center
One project I had the opportunity to work on was the Mission Control Center (MCC) Display. Although quite intense at its core, creating an easily understandable display was the overall objective.
The MCC is a display that resides in mission control rooms not only at SSL but in their customers’ control rooms as well. It was designed to be utilized on any high-resolution monitor or projector ranging from 20″ – 100″.
At a high level, numerous data points come across the network every second that gives you specific information about the spacecraft’s status. Some of these data points include whether the spacecraft is in range, which antennas it is connected to, satellite health, and network connectivity. These data points were aggregated from various systems and made into an easy to read display that shows you all of this information at a glance.
Situational Awareness (SAW)
Another project I developed with Space Systems Loral was the Situational Awareness Display. The SAW was designed and developed in conjunction with National Broadband Corporation (NBNCo) of Australia. The goal was to create a display that could help flight engineers understand the condition and connectivity of the spacecraft so that their customers would remain connected to the internet. Like the MCC, the SAW grouped data from various flight control systems but was specifically designed just for use at NBNCo and their affiliates.
I was the sole Product Designer for this project and responsible for the Prototyping and Visual Design. I worked directly with Flight Engineers and the Executive Team to understand the goals and requirements of the project. I was in charge of creating the wireframe, the flow of information, the final mock and its assets for development. At one point, I did work with a design intern from SSL to help guide him as a favor for the company. Both systems are still currently in use in mission control rooms around the world.
Space Systems Loral needed two displays for their Mission Control Room Facilities that could be interpreted merely by any constituent that walked into the room. Before the displays were implemented, the only way to get the current status of the satellite was to be a trained satellite engineer using systems designed twenty years ago. From a business perspective, this was an inefficient way to operate. Any employee should have the ability to walk into the control room and quickly see the satellite’s status.
Below are the three personas I identified for the project. Each has a different skill set, knowledge of the launch and flight of a satellite. However, all three need to be able to discern the display with little to no explanation. All personas work for both displays outlined above.
Persona 1: Mission Control Room Operator
A Mission Control Room Operator’s job is to monitor the spacecraft and spacecraft subsystems to make sure there are no abnormalities or alarms. Each operator is usually responsible for one or two sections of the spacecraft. Their primary responsibility is to relay these statuses to other flight managers and executives.
Persona 2: SSL Management
Management at SSL is accountable for mission-critical decisions that must be made at a moment’s notice. They use the updates received from Control Room Operators in order to make these decisions. While the Manager has a high-level understanding of what is going on at each point of the mission, they may not be able to read an Operator’s monitor with precision.
Persona 3: Customer of SSL
Once the satellite has reached its planned orbit, the customer’s Mission Operators and Management team will take over for SSL in the flying of the spacecraft. They have the same understanding as the Personas listed above and operate similarly.
Once all of the data points and various screens were identified, they were assembled into a flowchart. This includes the web configuration portion of the display, as well as, the display itself.
After the workflow has been developed, wireframes are needed to get the general idea of what the final product will look like.
Mocks / Designs
After the wireframes were created and all parties agreed on the data that was being ingested, and the way it would be displayed, final mockups were created. This involved creating all of the actual iconography and visual assets. Both the MCC and the SAW were designed using Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Sketch.
Every project comes with its own set of challenges. One challenge, in particular, stood out the most; it was making sure that both the Mission Operators and Management understood what was on the screen with very little interpretation needed. All of the icons and imagery needed to be clear enough for both parties to be able to look at the display and have a quick graphical representation of what the current status of the satellite was.
All in all, this was a gratifying project that I had to pleasure to be a part of. It was something where I could directly see the impact of my work based on the reactions of the Mission Operators and Management at SSL. It’s also not every day your work is displayed on a 100″ monitor. One of the keys to making this project successful was constant and effective communication, only because of the sheer amount of data that needed to be compiled to create the final display.