When the twin solid rocket boosters on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket ignite for the Artemis I mission, the flight control team in the Mission Control Center (MCC) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will be responsible for the flight. After launch controllers at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida conduct the countdown leading to Orion’s launch atop the SLS rocket, mission control will take over the Artemis I flight through Orion’s splashdown.
As SLS and Orion ascend to space, and Orion ventures beyond the Moon and returns home, a team of experts on both the Orion spacecraft and the rocket’s systems and subsystems will be responsible for the mission. The flight control room has several different desks or “consoles” staffed 24/7 with flight controllers representing various disciplines responsible for carrying out the mission. Each console is labeled with a shortened title representing their role. The team also uses the abbreviation for efficient communication in mission control.
MCC is comprised of several flight control rooms (FCR), including FCR-1, FCR-2 and the Red, White and Blue FCRs. Work to transform the White FCR from its shuttle legacy configuration into a modern mission control configuration to support 21st century missions, known as the MCC-21 effort, began in January 2013. The upgraded White FCR is ultimately intended to serve as the mission control for flights of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on missions to deep space destinations.
The teams that will operate and monitor the flight around the clock from the White Flight Control Room at Johnson:
Flight Director (Flight)
The flight director leads the team of flight controllers, research and engineering experts, and support personnel, making real-time decisions for Orion’s trip around the Moon and back. The position is responsible for mission execution and all commands and troubleshooting that occur during the mission between booster ignition as the SLS rocket lifts off the launch pad, through powering down the Orion spacecraft after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean and handing over responsibility of the spacecraft to the recovery team. The flight director is located near the middle of the room for optimal coordination with
the other positions.
Booster Officer (Booster)
The booster officer monitors the performance of the SLS rocket’s solid rocket boosters, core stage, and Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) from liftoff through the Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) burn that will send Orion out of Earth’s orbit and toward the Moon, to ensure the rocket’s propulsion system is working as expected.
Command and Data Handling Officer (C&DH)
In the third row, the command and data handling officer monitors the overall health of the Orion spacecraft’s avionics systems and manages its computer systems, software, and data. The C&DH officer will be responsible for crew display interfaces on the spacecraft when astronauts fly in Orion beginning with Artemis II.
Control Officer (Control)
The control officer is responsible for managing the guidance and control of the SLS rocket’s solid rocket boosters, core stage, and ICPS engine from liftoff through the TLI burn.
Emergency, Environmental, and Consumables Officer (EECOM)
The emergency, environmental, and consumables officer reports any issues, such as atmospheric and cooling parameters, to the flight director, manages environmental control and life support systems and emergency procedures. Even though astronauts are not aboard Artemis I, the EECOM will monitor and control thermal control subsystems. The officer is also responsible for integrated team responses to potential emergencies like a leak or toxic atmosphere inside the cabin, or cooling loss issues.
Flight Activities Officer (FAO)
The flight activities officer leads the preparation of the timeline for the flight plan to meet mission objectives. The FAO also will manage coordination of real-time changes in the flight plan and future crew activities once astronauts fly inside Orion.
Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO)
The flight dynamics officer monitors trajectories for Orion during all phases of the mission, including launch, in distant retrograde orbit around the Moon, and in possible abort scenarios during ascent.
Flight Operations Directorate (FOD)
Seated in the back of the room, the flight operations directorate position is a senior manager who helps relay information between the flight control team and relevant managers and leaders within NASA. The console position will be occupied during dynamic phases of flight, including launch, major burns, and re-entry.
Ground Control Officer (GC)
The ground control officer is responsible for the operation of all systems in mission control necessary to perform planning, training, testing, execution, and evaluation of the mission. GC also is responsible for maintaining communications between the Orion spacecraft and the MCC through the Near-Earth and Deep Space Networks.
Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC)
The guidance, navigation, and control officer operates Orion’s navigation and flight control software during the mission. GNC is responsible for the spacecraft’s orientation in space.
Integrated Communications Officer (INCO)
The integrated communications officer is responsible for monitoring the operation of all of Orion’s communications systems, including data, telemetry and video during the mission, including the systems needed to send commands to the spacecraft from Earth. On future missions, this position will also monitor systems that support commands to Orion from other spacecraft, handheld radio communication for crews, command encryption, and audio systems.
Mechanical and Power Officer (MPO)
The mechanical and power officer is responsible for Orion’s electrical, mechanical, structural, and landing and recovery systems. These systems include batteries, solar arrays, interior lighting, vehicle structure, thermal protection, and parachutes.
Propulsion Officer (PROP)
The propulsion officer is responsible for the Orion spacecraft’s propulsion systems. This includes thruster performance and propellant usage, engine burns and position control maneuvers, and managing vehicle and crew consumables, and reporting for the crew and service modules.
Public Affairs Officer (PAO)
The public affairs officer provides mission commentary to explain flight control operations to the public and news media, and coordinates events between the news media and mission control. The PAO also will coordinate events between the news media and crew aboard future Artemis flights.
NASA Infrastructure Supporting the MCC
In addition to flight controllers in mission control Houston, an array of other teams of people support the mission. A team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will staff an SLS Engineering Support Center beginning with the countdown before launch through deployment of the CubeSats that will be riding along in the rocket’s ICPS. The team will provide SLS subsystem evaluation, evaluate launch commit criteria data, and serve as the SLS technical authority, among other responsibilities.
Several engineering support teams, located in Mission Evaluation Rooms, will also be staffed 24/7 during the mission, available to provide additional support for topics such as subsystem evaluation, assessments of risk and safety during potential issues, and serve as technical authority on various subsystems or aspects of the spacecraft.
If you found this article interesting, please like and share!