Preparing for CSOC launch

The two teams bidding to provide space operations services to NASA are proposing "virtual mission control centers" that will tap Internet and other commercial standards for data acquisition and communications.

Boeing North American Inc.'s Space Systems Division and Lockheed Martin Space Mission Systems and Services Inc. are vying for the $5 billion Consolidated Space Operations Contract (CSOC), which is scheduled to be awarded July 1. One of the largest information technology-related procurements in civilian agency history, CSOC consolidates the agency's entire space operation infrastructure.

The contractor will provide data acquisition from spacecraft, data transmission to end-user scientists, data processing and storage, and mission control center operations. CSOC covers the space shuttle and space station programs and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Deep Space Network Communications Complex.

Boeing and Lockheed each were awarded preliminary, $4 million contracts in May 1997 to develop proposed space operation architectures that NASA will use to evaluate the award of the final, 10-year contract. Both concerns have assembled powerhouse teams from various IT and telecommunications sectors, and both plan to propose a shift from NASA's traditional proprietary products to the use of commercial hardware and software.

The traditional mission control scenario, with scientists hovering around consoles in centralized locations, most likely with disappear as this contract comes to life. The virtual mission control centers will use Internet standards to allow scientists and others involved in controlling and gathering data from a spacecraft after launch to work remotely.

"The ground station of the future is a laptop computer and a [World Wide Web] browser," said Ken Asbury, Lockheed's vice president of business development. "We don't need as much brick and mortar for control facilities. We see missions in the future as being run completely from where the investigators are."

Data archiving and retrieval also will be a target for cost-cutting by moving toward a more commercial method, Asbury said. For example, scientific data could be stored next to commercial credit card data at CitiBank, he said.

Lockheed is proposing to develop a massive Virtual Private Network that is protected by a firewall that will be designed based on the company's internal intranet. Each of its team members would bring a critical component to the planned architecture, with GTE Internetworking designing the Internet architecture and providing security, Wang Global providing network management, and MCI Communications Corp. and Siemens AG providing telecommunications equipment. Allied Signal Technical Services Corp., which is an incumbent on one of the contracts being rolled into CSOC, and Computer Sciences Corp. round out Lockheed's team.

Boeing's vision of the virtual control center would allow researchers to pull up a services catalog via the World Wide Web to request services, such as specific data from a spacecraft. Boeing plans in October to begin construction of a new integrated services center in Greenbelt, Md., that will operate as a layered interface between the users and the infrastructure, said Rick Stephens, president of Boeing Space Operations. The planned infrastructure, which will depend heavily upon commercial products, will drive down NASA's costs by 50 percent, he said.

On Boeing's team, Lucent Technologies will provide data communications services, Microsoft Corp. will design evolving applications to meet scientists' needs, Hughes Space and Communications Co. will aid with long-term satellite planning and KPMG Peat Marwick will usher through the cultural and re-engineering changes associated with the contract. Other team members include Science Applications International Corp. and Litton/PRC Inc.

To keep technology poised on the bleeding edge, Boeing has designed a mechanism to "try before fly," or operate products in parallel existing systems before using them for NASA operations.

"We're in the space operation business, not in the technology development business," Stephens said. "We only get one shot at the ability to get information back from a spacecraft as it is doing its maneuvering."

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