Big Data in Deep Space

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Mach 5 Insight™ Telemetry for Orion




Outer space is often described as an empty void – empty except for occasional celestial bodies, dust particles, cosmic rays, and steady streams of spacecraft data. Much like the possibilities of space travel, that data is only getting bigger.

Few have been behind the controls to witness it firsthand, but our spacecraft have seen vast technological enhancements since the 1960s – just like our motor vehicles. The telemetry data collected from an Apollo mission in the 1960s is a small fraction of the data collected from NASA’s Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle during its first Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) on Dec. 5.

During its four-hour flight, which carried the unmanned spacecraft beyond the Van Allen radiation belt, hundreds of thousands of measurands (items being measured) were collected and beamed back to earth. 

Each measurand was reported on many times during the mission, some up to 40 times per second. So when you multiply the number of measurands with how many times that data is collected, you end up with billions of measurements to collect and analyze.

“In today’s space missions, we’re dealing with an unprecedented magnitude of data,” said Michael Schwartz, Lockheed Martin Fellow. “Our goal is to transform that data with real-time and batch analytics and then use the archived data to create valid hypotheses for future space missions. We can apply learning techniques and training sets to determine if mission critical components will succeed or fail in specific circumstances.”

Michael Schwartz, Lockheed Martin Fellow
Mach 5 Insight™ and Orion

From battery voltages and valve openings to the spacecraft’s speed, altitude and pressure in helium tanks, the Orion mission faces the challenge of growing telemetry storage and processing requirements compounded by limited lab facilities and an aggressive schedule. These spacecraft measurands have always been vital to space missions, but with analytical power and speed of retrieval, data processors are able to ingest more data than ever before and use that data to influence future space missions.

Lockheed Martin’s Mach-5 Insight™ is the big data stack used to solve this processing challenge. It enables rapid high volume data streaming and archiving to provide future space capsules the ability

to compare lessons learned from former missions to support its numerous future missions like asteroid visits, moon orbits and missions to Mars. As these missions evolve, the same capsule and environment will be adapted to support them based on the data collected and organized.

Mach-5 Insight™ combines traditional big data batch processing with a near-real-time layer which permits archive queries to be retrieved across both the historical batch and streaming views within seconds. Continual computation of aggregate statistics empowers engineers to step away from routine telemetry analysis and focus on interesting and off-nominal behavior emerging from the spacecraft. Additionally, historical data can be streamed in as if it were live, or overlaid onto current data enabling comparison of previous operations to contrast with current data.


“The job during flight is knuckle-bitingly tense, but it’s backed by many months of painstaking analysis by dozens of principal engineers focused on individual spacecraft components.”


- Michael Schwartz, Lockheed Martin Fellow


The complicated job of understanding this stream of telemetry data is done by engineers who are constantly examining and interpreting charts, graphs and reports representing the health and status of various systems. “The job during flight is knuckle-bitingly tense, but it’s backed by many months of painstaking analysis by dozens of principal engineers focused on individual spacecraft components,” said Schwartz. “During integration and testing we connect high-rate cables tied directly to the outputs of the flight computer to run through many scenarios to understand the spacecraft’s behavior.”

Orion used these big data ingest features for collection and analysis during its first venture into space on Dec. 5, but the data collected during that flight test will be implemented in future missions too. For example, EFT-1 had hundreds of thousands of measurands in its telemetry scope, but Orion’s next mission, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), will circle the moon beaming back millions of telemetry measurands as it prepares to fly humans deep into space.

“We’re giving the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle the ability to teach us lessons about its own experience in space so we can be flexible to support whatever missions we ask of it in the future,” said Schwartz.

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