Robotics Mission Control Centre
The Robotics Mission Control Centre of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is located at CSA headquarters in Longueuil, Quebec.
The ground team uses this facility to plan, monitor and control more than half of all Canadarm2 and Dextre operations unfolding aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The Robotics Mission Control Centre is designed to function in the same way as NASA Mission Control in Houston. The CSA's centre features the same:
- ability to send commands
- ability to receive data from the ISS, Canadarm2 and Dextre
- voice communications systems
- video communications systems
These similarities allow members of the ground team to work from either location, or collaborate even if they are separated by large distances.
The role of the ground team
The ground team is made up of two smaller groups, the flight control team and the engineering support team. They work together on Earth to assure the success of robotics operations on board the ISS.
The flight control team is generally composed of three people, all of whom are flight controllers:
- a robotics officer, or ROBO, who leads the team by coordinating robotics activities and assigning task priorities
- a systems officer, who supports the ROBO and anticipates problems to develop emergency procedures
- a task officer, who supports the systems officer and keeps flight notes
The main tasks of the flight control team are:
- planning Canadarm2's and Dextre's movements
- performing tests and running simulations of the planned manoeuvres
- controlling the robots from the ground
- providing continuous support to astronauts during robotics operations in orbit
- monitoring all Station systems and activities
The engineering support team varies based on the needs of the operation. Generally, the engineering support team is made up of engineers and experts from the CSA and MDA, the company that designed and built the suite of Canadian robots stationed on the ISS. This team provides technical support during the planning and execution of robotics missions.
Most robotics operations are carried out remotely. However, astronauts on board the ISS play a key role when it comes to using Canadarm2 to:
- "catch" arriving cargo ships
- assist colleagues on spacewalks
Unlike Canadarm2, Dextre is always operated from the ground in order to free up the ISS crew's time for more important tasks like conducting science experiments.
How a robotics operation works
Depending on its complexity, preparing for a robotics operation can take as little as nine days or as long as three years.
When the flight control team is assigned to a project, they proceed in the following way:
- The team coordinates Canadarm2's and Dextre's activities with the Station's other systems, like communications, electrical, and computer systems.
- They plan the position of cameras and the path the robot will take, determine software updates required, and identify any problems that may affect robotics operations.
- During the execution phase, the flight controllers operate Canadarm2 and Dextre, assist astronauts, and determine corrective measures if a problem arises.
The engineering support team provides technical assistance throughout the process.
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