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For many years, the OeWF has conducted simulations of human missions to Mars. The main motivation for this is science, and the main attention during such missions goes to our analog astronauts. But behind the scenes, there are many support teams which are enabling the missions. Sebastian Sams of the IT team runs us through the IT infrastructure in the field today, and explains the novelties for our upcoming AMADEE18 mission.
From an IT point of view, every OeWF mission means the set-up of an ample computer network at the location of the simulation. Work spaces are being wired like in a small office, in addition to radio links for the wireless inclusion of experiments. Over many years, the so-called OPSbox played a central role in this network, or, to put it more accurately, one of the computers inside the OPSbox. It constitutes a portable work space for two people and allows access to data of the Aouda space suit simulator as well as of other experiments. In addition, most of the communication with the Mission Support Center (MSC) runs through the OPSbox. Mostly invisible to the user, however, it served a double function, also being responsible for establishing the internet connection and providing local services (e.g. data server, buffering telemetry data). At the time of designing the OPSbox, this was an adequate solution – there was only one suit (Aouda.X) and usually not too many devices in the network, so that the computer could easily cover these extra tasks.
Over the past years, however, the amount of hardware being used in the field during missions has constantly grown. The number of computers grew, the network became larger and more experiments were directly integrated into the data infrastructure. During past missions, we could gather valuable experience in running this infrastructure in unique places with their associated challenges. Based on these insights and in order to guarantee a stable operation despite growing demands, the IT hardware for missions has been expanded by an additional component: the ServerBox. It takes over background tasks from the OPSbox and constitutes the heart of the IT infrastructure in the field. The OPSbox therefore becomes a pure work space without additional tasks and the possible set-up options more flexible.
As its name already suggests, the new box features a server, which provides the necessary services for the operation of the space suit simulators and for relaying data to the MSC. As local data server, it also performs the important task of fail-safe storage of scientific data. But since the server, in principle, “only” offers more capacity reserves, it is really the new network components which drastically enhance the range of possibilities compared to the OPSbox. Thanks to our cooperation with the company LANCOM Systems GmbH, the ServerBox is equipped with a capable router and a 26-port network switch. The router supports a great number of protocols for connecting to the internet and offers us great flexibility in the choice of the internet access. In addition, a mobile connection with up to two SIM cards can be established, which can serve as an automatic backup for the primary connection. Thanks to the support of the LTE standard and the associated speeds, it can also serve as easy and quickly accessible connection during smaller tests. The additional external outdoor LTE antenna also improves the reception when operating in remote regions. The switch connects all network elements with each other as well as to the router and the server. Thanks to the support of the Power-over-Ethernet standard, some devices can also be supplied with energy without requiring additional power adaptors or cables. This facilitates and accelerates setting up the infrastructure at the location of the mission.
The new ServerBox enables a more efficient set-up as well as a stable and fail-safe connection to the internet and the MSC. In addition, it expands the possibilities of running additional services, which have so far only been available in the MSC or which would have had too high computational requirements. From an IT point of view, it is almost a pity that the box will only rarely fail in an ideal setting, given all the technological possibilities – a stable internet connection today seems just natural, even if one sits in the middle of the desert…
Author: Sebastian Sams
This article is available in: German
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