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Effects of Communication Delay on Human Spaceflight Missions  (2023)
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Missions onboard the International Space Station rely on the real-time availability of a large ground team of system experts to command the vehicle, solve safety-critical problems, and guide the crew during complex operations. Also, in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), supplies can be sent and crews evacuated quite quickly if needed. Future missions Beyond Low Earth Orbit (BLEO) will not have this 24/7, real-time safety net as communication latency increases, resupply difficulty increases, and evacuation opportunities diminish. There are few, if any, terrestrial analogs for human spaceflight missions BLEO that reflect the conditions—including extreme environments, long mission durations, and small crew sizes – that make these missions so high risk. Studies on specific conditions, such as communication delays and asynchronous interactions, have been performed in NASA Earth-based analog missions and have found that communication delays can disrupt ground-crew interactions and adversely impact team performance. However, there are gaps and limitations in studies conducted to date, notably on human spacecraft system failure response and recovery, the impacts of shorter lunar-relevant communication delays on complex operations, and the effectiveness of countermeasures. The work presented here examines real anomalies that occurred on ISS and Apollo missions and creates example scenarios for Lunar Surface and Mars missions to explore the impact of communication delays of varying length on onboard operations and mission outcomes. Our analyses indicate that short communication delays (e.g., seconds to a minute) adversely impact the ability for ground to provide real-time oversight and guidance and to catch quickly emerging problems in time. Longer communication delays (e.g., up to 40 minutes on Mars missions) call for a shift of responsibility for tactical operations from ground to crew; crew must make time-critical decisions independently and respond to time-critical vehicle anomalies to prevent consequences.
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architecture, duration, exploration, Human, integration, Long, missions, Spaceflight, system
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International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics. July 2023. San Francisco, California
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Adobe PDF Icon  AHFE_Effects_of_Comm_Delay.pdf (Download Acrobat Reader Click to download Adobe Acrabat Reader)
  (599KB) (application/pdf)
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Curator: Phil So
NASA Official: Jessica Nowinski
Last Updated: August 15, 2019