Tuesday, March 1, 2011

FutureFlight Central


NASA's Future Flight Central, or FFC, offers 360-degree full-scale, real-time simulations. They can "re-create" and test various aircraft and landing patterns for airports in terms of design or flight control issues, or of planet Mars for remote rover drivers, etc.

During the NASA Ames Tweetup, our tour split into groups and allowed everyone some time in the FFC upper floor... and what an easy way to make yourself dizzy!

I was trying to spin in a dark room without falling or hitting anyone else, and I think I only barely managed it. What kept me from looking like a complete goon was the fact that everyone else was trying the same moves with their cameras at various points during the sims!

In this short video, our hosts ran one of many simulations, pointing out the airbag bounce marks and dust stirs on the planet Mars, following the Opportunity rover's not-so-soft landing at the Meridiani Planum, just south of the Martian equator.

Mars Opportunity RoverChallenger Memorial Station on Mars

The images around the lander were the first from the panoramic camera from mission MER-B, or "Mars Exploration Rover B" (Spirit was MER-A). It's really quite something to see when you have the benefit of 360-degree rover cam!

Once the rover became operational, it pulled back and focused its camera on the empty lander, the Challenger Memorial Station, forever commemorating the crew of Space Shuttle Challenger at Opportunity's landing site.

Floorplan of FFCFFC Floorplan

The FFC simulators' software packages, displayed simultaneously on twelve screens, can use artist renderings of surroundings or re-creations of actual airports or planetary terrains. The 3-D database is built up from:
- Digital Photography
- High-resolution aerial survey photography
- Digital Terrain Elevation Data (DTED)
- Airport AutoCAD (DXF) files

Future Flight Central SimulatorsSharing a laugh with the simulation technicians

Their operations also include monitoring of many kinds of radar displays, air traffic control, the maintaining of a large aircraft library, interactive performance experiments, data recording and measurements, summary statistics, and full integration with the Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS).