ArcNews Spring 2007 Issue – NASA Center Launches GIS

Goddard space flight center map

Goddard Space Flight Center‘s Wallops Flight Facility, located on the eastern shore of Virginia, was established in 1945 as a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) center for aeronautic research. NASA manages dozens of research, flight, and education centers around the United States. Wallops Flight Facility is responsible for rocket launches, scientific balloon projects, and aircraft missions. In December 2006, the facility demonstrated its capabilities with the successful launch of a U.S. Air Force Minotaur 1 rocket. Four more Minotaur rocket launches are planned over the next few months.

Over the past 10 years, Wallops gathered a wealth of mapping information for the facility. This mapping data depicted facility, environmental, mission management, and range safety features and was available primarily in CAD format via numerous drawing files. The problem facing mapping and nonmapping users alike was determining which CAD files contained the most current information and making the data available for a variety of NASA applications. Moreover, data organization issues made maintenance of the mapping data at the facility cumbersome and inconsistent.

Recognizing the need to standardize mapping data at the facility and provide tools for distributing maps to its users, Wallops developed the Geographic Information System for Managing Operations (GISMO). NASA has directed all its facilities to use ArcGIS as their standard GIS software package. Moreover, Wallops has been using Esri’s software for more than a decade, so the implementation of ArcGIS 9.2 for this project was a natural extension of its existing investment in GIS.

Applying industry database design standards and implementing a Web mapping interface available via the Wallops intranet, GISMO would provide managers with the ability to create maps, publish them as map services, and quickly make them available to authorized users through its secure Web application.

Maps can be exported from GISMO to PDF in a variety of page sizes using the layout properties in the original GIS document.

GISMO uses ArcGIS Server 9.2 Standard Workgroup to manage the storage and distribution of its GIS database and application. This allows both the data and application to be stored and maintained with one software license. NASA contracted with WorldView Solutions (an Esri Business Partner headquartered in Richmond, Virginia) for needs assessment, database design, application development, and training services.

NASA chose to use the Spatial Data Standard for Facilities, Infrastructure, and Environment (SDSFIE), developed by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s CADD/GIS Technology Center, for its GIS database design. SDSFIE establishes standards for GIS implementation at U.S. military installations and other federal government organizations. SDSFIE provides Wallops with a complete data model for loading dozens of existing data layers into its GIS database. By using these industry-accepted database design standards, the facility has benefited from data integration efforts taking place at other federal organizations. Wallops can also share its data with other federal facilities, secure in the knowledge that they will be able to quickly make use of Wallops’ data because it is based on a common data model.

The Web mapping tools in GISMO were developed for ArcGIS Server using Microsoft .NET’s C# development environment, based on an open services architecture. This translates into an environment where map services can be published and immediately distributed to end users via the GISMO Web interface. A selection of available maps is provided in a drop-down list on the application interface, and users can switch maps swiftly without having to load a new Web page. Security is handled in the map service folders managed in ArcGIS Desktop by matching the folder name to a group name on the NASA domain, greatly reducing the headache of permissions administration. If users are members of a group with the same name as the map service folder, they are granted access to the map service in the GISMO Web mapping application. Because the GISMO application gives secure access to every map service running in ArcGIS Server, users can use one Web page to access all the facility’s GIS data.

U.S. Air Force Minotaur launch in December 2006.

GISMO leverages published GIS documents as the exclusive source for map symbology, labeling, bookmarks, layouts, and querying functionality. For example, when a user identifies a feature on the map, the Web client interface only shows attribute fields that were set as visible in the document. Search functionality also observes domain values, default values, and field types, yielding simple, rapid, and meaningful data query results in the Web application.

By taking advantage of ArcGIS Server’s archiving capabilities, Wallops is also maintaining a detailed historical record of data changes and creating records to support future facility planning efforts. The building footprints data layer, for instance, contains historical building information in addition to schematics of structures slated for future construction. This data is being employed in a GISMO map service for the facility’s master planning project, providing a live map showing the current facility buildings and what facilities might look like 5, 10, or 15 years in the future.

The turnkey tools and enterprise database developed for NASA were completed over the course of a six-month project schedule.

Says Caroline Massey, assistant director of Management Operations, “Wallops Flight Facility is home to NASA’s only launch range. Safe orbital launch operations require very precise map-based planning and communication tools across many organizational lines and with the public. The Wallops Enterprise GIS is one of the most important management tools to support Wallops’ move into orbital launch program support for NASA small satellite programs, DoD operationally responsive space programs, and commercial space efforts for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Space Port.”

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