Draper Lab helps automate International Space Station

Cambridge, MA—Draper Laboratory announced Oct. 10 that productivity for crew and ground controllers will improve when its Timeliner automation software is used for the first time on board the International Space Station (ISS).


Cambridge, MA— Draper Laboratory announced Oct. 10 that productivity for crew and ground controllers will improve when its Timeliner automation software is used for the first time on board the International Space Station (ISS). The software was installed during the Space Shuttle Atlantis' current ISS Assembly Flight, 9A (STS-112), which launched on Oct. 7 and began its return flight on Oct. 16.

Timeliner software will automate a number of functions that were previously performed by space station crews and ground operators. For the current mission, Timeliner will be used to autonomously activate and control experiment payloads in the station's new Microgravity Science Glovebox.

Timeliner is the user interface language and execution environment used on the station to automate operations. It uses an English language syntax that doesn't require specialized computer programming. For instance, in its current use with the Microgravity Science Glovebox, a primary function of Timeliner will be in controlling and sequencing on-board experiments. This capability that will enhance the scientific productivity of the astronauts by automating tasks that were previously done manually. Its other potential uses on-board the station include vehicle control; performing preflight and post-flight subsystem checkouts; and handling failure detection and recovery.

Timeliner executes programmed sequences of activities, either autonomously or through interactive control with the astronauts or ground operators. It can run pre-defined 'scripts' of procedures and allows intervention by system operators in real-time through commands to install, remove, start, stop, step ahead, or resume scripts. Timeliner's scripts cause actions to be taken, not only based on time, but also triggered by system events or complex dynamic conditions. Timeliner can execute multiple simultaneous sequences of operations, running up to 40 scripts in parallel.

Timeliner is a modular system consisting of a kernel and adaptors. The kernel is Timeliner's core functionality, and doesn't change across applications. Different adaptors have been developed that allow Timeliner to interface with a variety of operating systems, including the operating system of the ISS.

Timeliner was originally developed by Draper in 1981 for use in simulating tasks performed by astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle. In 1992, Timeliner was selected by NASA as the User Interface Language for the space station, and it was installed on the space station's Command and Control Processor and Payload Control Processor. A version of Timeliner has also been adapted for use on the space station's Kibo Japanese Experiment Module, which is scheduled for launch on the space shuttle on the ISS' 1J flight in May 2004.

Draper received a patent for Timeliner in 1998. It was licensed to Auspice Inc. d Auspice TLX , an enterprise-control system. Auspice customers who currently hold licenses for use of Auspice TLX include AT&T Broadband and Computer Sciences Corp.

Draper Laboratory is an independent, private, not-for-profit engineering research and de-velopment corporation. Known for its guidance, navigation, and control expertise, Draper also pioneers microelectromechanical systems, fault-tolerant computing, and other mission critical technologies.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jim Montague, news editor

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