Space Research Institute
Russian Academy of Sciences

Ground Control and Operation Centers

Head of the department

Vladimir N. NAZAROV

Head of the department

Vladimir N. NAZAROV

In general

The word "space" naturally evokes the desire to look up. But experts in space research are well aware of the fact that the most work related to space experiments takes place on the Earth. This is true not only for spacecraft, scientific hardware, and all relevant services development before the launch, but also for conducting science space experiments for all its lifetime.

The current ground control and operation centers are in fact the quintessence of the most effective IT approaches and solutions to the specifics of space research. And this is crucial for scientific success too.
Ground control and operation center’s equipment is used throughout the whole experiment’s lifetime, including mechanisms of control, acquisition, and processing of scientific data, etc. From the very first stages of a space experiment ground control center acts as one of the main tools that ensure its smooth running.

Telemetry processing as a separate activity has existed in the Institute since 1966. It has undergone various transformations: divisions were merged, new structures were created. To use modern parlance, we can say that the first stages laid down core principles of ground infrastructure, which are currently in use: geographically dispersed subsystems were created, integrated (given the technologies of that time) in a single information environment, and unique computing complexes were developed.

Data handling devices based on microelectronics, revolutionary for those years, were developed. The striking example is the legendary SVIT (Self-contained Video information Interactive Terminal), the first national imaging device, designed in 1983 in the Laboratory of L.S. Chesalin in cooperation with the Kirov Institute of Technology. A software package was developed for the system. The SVIT image processing system was serially manufactured by the Special Design Bureau IKI (Frunze) in partnership with the Tallinn Design Bureau Desintegrator, and later in Bulgaria by the Izot company. This device was the first in the world to implement a direct video streaming scheme from the RAM to the color display via a special video data processor, allowing on-the-fly calculations to display the information. With the emergence and spread of personal computers in 1987 the next modification of the device was designed — MicroSVIT, one of the first integrated graphics accelerator cards for IBM-compatible PC.

Later, following the developed paradigm of setting up ground centers as distributed information systems, multiple projects were realized. For the Rentgen observatory project on the Kvant module of the Mir space station a lower-tier telemetry input and processing system was developed. It was based on a mini-computer of Elektronika 60-type and at a low cost of both the system and its operation had the best functional characteristics among the existing similar systems based on the EC-EVM and M-6000 series. The system was also commissioned at the IKI Terminal Station in Deep Space Communication Centre and had supported for several years various space research projects (Phobos, Aktivny, APEKS, Koronas, and Granat), until it was replaced by a more advanced one.

To test the instruments for the Phobos project (1988), the ROMANCE system (short for Distributed Processing Mobile Ground Site Architecture, in Russian) was developed. Based on distributed processing methods, the computing complex was composed of several interconnected microcomputers. In addition to its low cost, high capacity, and reliability (due to hot standby of the computers) this solution gave the system necessary mobility, so that it could be used to work at IKI, the Baikonur spaceport, and the IKI Terminal Station.

The created on-site processing system for the Aktivny project — ROMANCE-Aktivny, allowed to receive telemetry, record it on magnetic data storage device, process, and display the results in real time. Telemetry was received at IZMIRAN (Troitsk) and displayed at IKI. The processing was carried out in parallel on the IZMIRAN and IKI computer systems. To reduce timeframes and costs of development and operation, as well as to make it easier to use, the system employed international information standards and formats. Computers of various architectures were applied to achieve the highest efficiency. For the data exchange between IZMIRAN and IKI a dedicated communication channel was arranged; the computing facilities located in these subsystems were combined via the DECNet network, and the displaying computers were integrated in NetWare local area. It was the first time when the Russian space industry applied global network technologies for the on-site processing systems. The system aroused great interest among specialists of national and foreign space organizations, was discussed at various international conferences, and in 1990 was installed at science telemetry point of the Cuban Academy of Sciences.

Later, the real-time data loop for the Interball project (1995-2000) was created. Its features were large volumes of data from four spacecraft, diverse scientific equipment, and a significant number of Russian and foreign participants. This resulted in a system that was truly unique in its characteristics built on the experience of previous developments and the latest information technology. The complexes created as part of this project had no analogues in the national space industry.

The ROMANCE-Interball system became the most perfect system of those years and largely determined the system design criteria for subsequent projects (Mars-96, Phobos Sample Return, RadioAstron). Its elements were introduced into operation and successfully implemented in space organizations of France, Czech Republic, Austria and other countries.

The most recent history of the Department opens with the ground segment of the Chibis-M project. The successful experience gained on the Chibis-M became the basis for the ground control scientific centers of the Spektr-RG and ExoMars missions and for a number of promising scientific space projects, such as the Chibis-AI microsatellite.

The Spectr-RG and ExoMars ground science centers have one thing in common: they are joint stations with foreign partners. Although most of the other scientific space projects were also international, they implied the participation of foreign scientific groups in the national project. And in the case of the aforementioned projects, we are talking about full-fledged equal participation in a joint ground center.

The ExoMars project is the first in Russia to create a fully shared ground segment that combines European (ESTRACK), Russian (Russian Scientific Information Receiving Complex, RKPNI) and American (DSN) receiving stations, the Darmstadt European Mission Control Center (ESOC) and the ESA (ESAC, Madrid) and Russian (IKI RAS, Moscow) ground science centers. The archives of scientific measuring results are also created with equal access for both partners: Russia and ESA.