Space Operations Institute at Capitol College backs up NASA WISE mission

At Capitol College’s Space Operations Institute (SOI), astronautical engineering students will have impressive experience to add to their resume when they graduate.

In addition to being the primary operations center for the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), the Space Operations Institute and its students now serve as the Backup Mission Operations Center (BMOC) for NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite mission.

SOI students are trained to work as the backup WISE Flight Operations Team, working in cooperation with John Hughes, the WISE east coast systems engineer. A major part of the work students perform is to monitor the BMOC computers and ensure that the SOI’s systems will be ready to take over primary operations functions should any problems occur with the primary missions operations center, located at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“Participating in the WISE mission expands on our mission-based educational programs and our successful partnership with NASA,” said Dr. Michael T. Wood, president of Capitol College. “We are pleased to be of service to this important mission while providing a state of the art educational experience for our students.”

To Angela Walters, technical manager of the SOI and associate professor of astronautical engineering, the experiences and skills the students gain as a part of the BMOC are invaluable in helping them achieve their career goals.

“By working on the WISE mission, these students have the opportunity to learn first hand how to build and operate a Backup Mission Operations Center, from writing standard operating procedures and project management, to building computer systems from hardware and network perspectives,” said Walters. “They are able to work with engineers from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to learn how the data collected during the WISE mission is being used by scientists.”

As the technical manager of the SOI, Walters mentors student work groups and manages the daily activities of the operations center. She is responsible for teaching team leadership, software configuration, and mission assurance.

“Certainly backup operations support is important to the WISE mission, but for us to enjoy that support while training and inspiring future ‘rocket scientists’ adds a thick layer of icing to the cake,” David Leisawitz, WISE mission scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, said.

In addition to their regular duties, several students serve as WISE student ambassadors for the college’s Center for Space Science Education and Public Outreach, reaching out to area high schools to talk about the WISE mission and their experience with WISE and the SOI.

“Being part of the WISE mission is an outstanding experience for our students to receive real world workforce development in conjunction with NASA, while their participation in a coordinated national effort to provide educational experiences for K-12 and community college students works to encourage those students to enter science fields,” Dr. Michael G. Gibbs, vice president for advancement and director of the Center for Space Science Education and Public Outreach, said.

Launched in December 2009, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer is a NASA-funded Explorer mission that will provide a vast storehouse of knowledge about the solar system, the Milky Way, and the Universe. The unmanned satellite carries an infrared-sensitive telescope that will image the entire sky. Among the objects WISE will study are asteroids, the coolest and dimmest stars, and the most luminous galaxies.

The Space Operations Institute, established at Capitol College in 2002 with a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is a consortium of NASA, industry, government and education partners. The Institute combines the infrastructure necessary to manage satellite operations with an educational program that prepares students for careers in all aspects of space mission operations. SOI builds upon Capitol’s established engineering foundation and works closely with NASA to understand the aerospace industry’s changing skill requirements.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Capitol College is the only independent college in Maryland dedicated to engineering, computer science, information technology and business. Founded in 1927, Capitol is an accredited institution offering associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as professional development training and certificates, and partnerships with government and industry. Capitol is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security. The college is located in Laurel, Md., a suburban setting midway between Washington, DC and Baltimore. Capitol is committed to providing a quality education that is technology-driven, accessible, affordable and practical.

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