NASA testing SHIP for Space Station

NASA is testing an application that uses Web services and enterprise information integration (EII) technology to aggregate data from disparate sources in order to diagnose and resolve problems detected on the International Space Station.

Flight controllers and engineers have been testing the new Systems Health Information Portal (SHIP) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston over the past three months. Officials have not decided when SHIP will go into production.

The internally built software is designed to help ground crews more quickly access and analyze data — including current sensor readings, historical sensor readings and other technical documents — that’s often housed in disparate data-storage systems, NASA officials said.

The space station’s initial components were launched in 1998, and it has housed astronauts since 2000. Its complexity often forces ground crews to cull through large amounts of data to determine the cause of anomalies, said Ronald Mak, senior computer scientist and an enterprise architect at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Mak was hired by NASA to work on its internal SHIP development team. “Virtual views”

SHIP was built in nine months using Borland Software Corp.’s JBuilder Enterprise Edition tool set and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Java Studio Creator. The application sends Web services messages through BEA Systems Inc.’s WebLogic application server to query back-end data sources when astronauts report an anomaly onboard the International Space Station, Mak said.

SHIP uses San Mateo, California-based Composite Software Inc.’s EII server to quickly integrate data housed in different formats in various back-end data sources, he said.

“The files could be in ASCII format, in various legacy formats, and they could be binary or XML-based,” said Mak.

The Composite Information Server takes the data from the various sources and formats and builds “virtual views” that can be used to diagnose and analyze space station problems, he said. By accessing multiple data sources, Mak added, “we can do joins and comparisons — things people used to do by cutting and pasting data into spreadsheets.”

Rick Alena is a computer engineer in the intelligent systems division at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., and leader of the SHIP development team. He noted that EII technology helps mission controllers aggregate large amounts of information and cross-reference that data with other sources

“As you analyze events and go into problem resolution, you find cases or examples of similar types of events and use those to help guide you,” Alena said. “[SHIP] is simply a way of allowing people to make diagnoses and institute the required recovery rather quickly.”

Although the space station will be the initial testbed for SHIP, developers hope it can also monitor the health of other space vehicles, including the crew exploration vehicle, the proposed replacement for the space shuttle, Alena added.

Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at ZapThink LLC in Waltham, Massachusetts, said that organizations building service-oriented architectures that need Web services accessing real-time data often turn to EII tools rather than build data warehouses to address data-integration problems.

With EII tools, companies can leave data in source systems instead of using extract, transform and load tools to send summary views of data that might not be up to date in warehouses, he added.

“If you leave stuff in the original data sources, it is always current,” Bloomberg said. “In NASA’s case, they need to make sure they get real-time, complete data.”

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