The Planning Science behind The Autonomous Mission Operations Research Project

 By Lauren Rush, mission planner for AMO, space station and space shuttle

 A couple weeks ago, the AMO (Autonomous Mission Operations) team completed our first set of experiment runs. In order to decrease external variability and to get the best data from the runs, the crew executed the same mission timeline for each run. Doing this allows the researchers and data collectors to form relationships between the data collected and the different time delay scenarios which were tested. When the timeline is the same for each run, that takes one variable out of the equation and helps the researchers know that a varying timeline of activities is not impacting any of the data collected in the experiment. Dang, I feel like a scientist writing all of that!


This timeline was a 2 hour mix of activities meant to represent a quiescent period in the Deep Space Habitat (DSH). In space language, quiescent basically means there’s no dynamic (another space term) operations happening like robotics, dockings, or space walks. Quiescent operations for the AMO project is when the space habitat is happily floating along, returning to Earth from some cool asteroid. The astronauts are performing general maintenance and housekeeping tasks and are doing normal things that we here on planet Earth do, like exercising and looking for misplaced objects in their habitat. I hope that gives you a good picture of what the crew is doing.


On the ground, in the control center, the planner (a flight control position which we have lovingly named Kali – in Hindu, known as the goddess of time and change) keeps track of the crew’s progress through the timeline. Kali also works to deconflict any issues with the orchestration of the crew completing all their scheduled tasks and also replans future days based on the current day’s activities. We use a new scheduling tool called Score. And surprisingly enough, Score is not an acronym for anything… Some of you know we use lots of acronyms around here at NASA.


Score was developed by Ames Research Center (ARC) for planning use on International Space Station and future exploration programs. Score leverages the scheduling capabilities created by ARC and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for missions such as the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), Phoenix Lander and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. The JPL and ARC development teams have created an “Ensemble Suite” of software (plug-in tools), based off of the open source Ensemble Integrated Development Environment (IDE), that can be added to/removed from the core planning software. This allows new functions and capabilities to be added to Score so that it can be used to support other missions, such as NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO), Desert Research And Technology Studies (RATS) and Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) analog missions. The AMO team uses Score to support our research missions by providing a visual representation of the mission in order to keep the flight control team focused on the current day’s tasks. Since the communication with the crew can be delayed up to 5 minutes each way, it is important for the team to have awareness of what the crew is completing on board, especially if some of those tasks require coordination with the flight control team. The capabilities of Score will allow the team to easily identify relationships between the ground flight controllers and the onboard crew and the impact of unexpected schedule delays, and communication delays while maintaining mission cognizance.


This week we’re having our mitigation runs, where we participate in more experiment runs and use some the new techology to mitigate the communications delays we experienced in our first set of experiment runs. Follow the AMO mission on Facebook at for more information.

One thought on “The Planning Science behind The Autonomous Mission Operations Research Project”

  1. Science and engineering are two wheels of vehicle that has to be keep moving simultaneously. You are the people whom has much knowledge about both and trying hard to make our country to feel proud !

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