Older spacecraft missions, especially those in low Earth orbit with telemetry intensive requirements, required round-the-clock control center staffing. The state of technology relied on control center personnel to continually examine data, make decisions, resolve anomalies, and file reports. Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a prime example of this description. Technological advancements in hardware and software over the last decade have yielded increases in productivity and operational efficiency, which result in lower cost. The re-engineering effort of HST, which has recently concluded, utilized emerging technology to reduce cost and increase productivity. New missions, of which NASA's Transition Region and Coronal Explorer Satellite (TRACE) is an example, have benefited from recent technological advancements and are more cost-effective than when HST was first launched.
During its launch (1998) and early orbit phase, the TRACE Flight Operations Team (FOT) employed continually staffed operations. Yet once the mission entered its nominal phase, the FOT reduced their staffing to standard weekday business hours. Operations were still conducted at night and during the weekends, but these operations occurred autonomously without compromising their high standards for data collections. For the HST, which launched in 1990, reduced cost operations will employ a different operational concept, when the spacecraft enters its low-cost phase after its final servicing mission in 2004. Primarily due to the spacecraft’s design, the HST Project has determined that single-shift operations will introduce unacceptable risks for the amount of dollars saved. More importantly, significant cost-savings can still be achieved by changing the operational concept for the FOT, while still maintaining round-the-clock staffing. It’s important to note that the low-cost solutions obtained for one satellite may not be applicable for other satellites. This paper will contrast the differences between low-cost operational concepts for a satellite launched in 1998 versus a satellite launched in 1990.