New Landsat Multi-Satellite Operations Center Important on Many Levels

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The future of Landsat mission operations is unfolding these days on the Goddard Space Flight Center campus against a backdrop of hammers swinging and nails being driven.

color photo of interior of Landsat 7 Mission Operations Center

A look inside the new Landsat 7 Mission Operations Center at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. (Public domain.)

With the General Dynamics Mission Systems (GDMS) field office in Seabrook, MD, working full bore to figure out as many commonalities between the Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 missions as possible, work is well under way on the shuffling required to bring those multiple missions together into one new architecture.

Why? That’s not so difficult to discern, says Justin Gronert, Systems Manager for the evolving Landsat Multi-Satellite Operations Center (LMOC) at Goddard. Practically speaking, combining mission operations makes a whole lot of sense, Gronert says, both from a cost perspective and a space one, too.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep building one-off MOCs and one-off missions, and each time asking for even more space here at Goddard,” Gronert says. “It’s a more effective utilization of not only our resources, but also our time and schedule to develop a multi-mission MOC.”

Tieing Operations to Development

There’s an operational consideration to all this as well, Gronert adds. A core lesson learned from the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, later renamed Landsat 8, was the idea of including operations in development across the ground system for Landsat 9 and thus the LMOC. So instead of a satellite mission being developed, built, then handed over to an operations team, “we build a mission system as an operations staff,” Gronert says. “Then we can use the new multi-satellite ground system that was developed to support future missions. And additionally, we can be confident in its abilities to support Landsat’s ongoing needs.”

An independent panel of NASA and USGS representatives assessed the design progress at an LMOC Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in early February at Goddard. The panel was complimentary of the progress being made, though it did forward eight Requests for Action (RFA) and five advisories. In essence, the panel’s post-review focus was largely on ensuring that the development schedule supports the aggressive testing and verification activities needed to support Landsat 9 operations readiness within the LMOC, but also the operational transition of Landsat 8 into the new center, Gronert says.

Ensuring Landsat 9 mission success is the highest priority, Gronert says, particularly given the aggressive mission testing schedule and the resources needed to support it. If that aggressive test schedule on Landsat 9 means work on Landsat 8 operations testing in the new LMOC has to be set aside for a while, then the panel wants to know that developers have accounted for that possibility, that they understand the impacts of such a reshuffling, and that they can still get all the testing and verification needed done in time to support both missions.

“That’s kind of the big picture of where the PDR went … refining how we’re actually going to support testing, how those test cases are going to look, and how verification activities will accurately portray how the LMOC is going to operate in a multi-satellite capability,” Gronert says.

Why User Community Should Care

Of course the end goals for the LMOC is to support Sustainable Land Imaging into the future and the science derived from that imaging. That said, EROS Chief Scientist Tom Loveland says it wouldn’t surprise him if most users of Landsat data have no inkling that the transition to an LMOC is going on.

After all, Loveland adds, most users probably only think about Landsat acquisitions when they actually need them.

But here’s why users should pay attention to that, Loveland says. Anything that increases the efficiency of operations, adds to the health and safety of the satellites, ensures that a smooth collections process continues, and successfully delivers data to the dense and rich Landsat archive, “really is the core of the Landsat mission,” he says.

“I really believe that sort of the hidden side of Landsat operations, and maybe one of the most critical ones to meeting user needs, is the role of operations,” Loveland says. “So the role of this new LMOC is really important.”

At this time, Landsat 7 mission operations are being transitioned into empty available space in Building 25 at Goddard. Once that move is complete sometime early this spring, and once officials are confident they can operate Landsat 7 out of the new location, then work will begin in Building 32 on reconfiguring the current Landsat 7 MOC into the multi-satellite operations center.

Tearing Down Walls

Over the spring and into the summer of 2018, the NASA Facilities Management Team at Goddard will be tearing down walls, painting, setting up furniture, and more as the current L7 MOC space is being made ready to house the new LMOC. USGS has asked for Aug. 1, 2018, date to start putting its own equipment into the LMOC space, Gronert says.

The Government has issued a Request for Proposal to GDMS to develop a plan for transitioning Landsat 8 operations into the LMOC and an estimate on the level of effort to perform that, Gronert says. “Our goal is that we can get a plan ready and approved by all the stakeholders across both USGS and NASA by LMOC Critical Design Review (CDR), which is late this year,” he said. “Once we have the plan available, we look forward to executing that plan later on this year.”

With the proposed launch of Landsat 9 in December 2020, "the actual Landsat 8 operations transition will occur after launch because of the impact of the aggressive Landsat 9 operations readiness testing schedule that holds higher priority,” Gronert says. The initial plan is to fully test Landsat 8 transition to the LMOC on a non-interference basis with Landsat 9. Then after Landsat 9 has launched and its mission operations transferred over to the USGS, then the actual transition of L8 to the LMOC will occur. Suffice to say, Gronert and others note, that a significant amount of work still needs to happen to accomplish both L9 mission readiness and L8 transition.