Control Systems Upgrade for NASA Space Simulator

7 min video  /  2 minute read

Project Overview

This was a control systems upgrade for the space simulator, which is a joint venture of the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the California Institute of Technology. The space simulator is a large chamber for testing spacecraft. It simulates conditions in space, including the heat and light of the sun, and extremely low temperatures. The chamber houses the world’s largest mirror. Vacuum pumps and other equipment can create a vacuum effect within the chamber, which is 60 feet high and 25 feet in diameter.

Trimax engineers, working with JPL engineers, decided to upgrade the redundant GE 90/70 PLC-based control solution with the latest GE RX3i redundant platform. This allowed for minimal wiring changes along with minimal downtime and process interruptions.

The new system employs about 2,000 digital input and output points along with 750 analog input and output points spread across redundant RX3i CPUs. Each CPU along with its redundant counterpart is networked using Ethernet-based ProfiNET communications.

The SCADA upgrade was where the most improvement was made. It was decided to replace the aging silk screen graphic panels and Wonderware-based system with an Ignition-based system.

Upgrading to Ignition allowed Trimax to deploy new features such as:

  • Alarm Notifications and announcements via the standard Ignition alarm management module along with additional scripting. Special scripts and dlls were created to convert alarm text to wav files used for alarm announcements.
  • Standard Ignition modules for security and user management to create and maintain secure access to the system.
  • Redundant servers and software modules were used to increase uptime and performance.
  • Because of the graphic capabilities of Ignition, Trimax was able to create elaborate and user-specific overviews for the simulator using built-in images and user-specific images to the Ignition Image Directory.
  • Overviews were used which include various templates which among other indicators show process flow. UDTs allowed Trimax to change values based on real-time tag values.
  • Using the standard Ignition PDF viewer, Trimax created file viewer functionality where the user can view system drawings, manuals and operational instructions.
  • Built-in Ignition functions and objects allowed Trimax to develop a complete device management system that helps the customer maintain the system.
  • Trimax developed a module that displays usage details of the critical components of the facility such as LN2 consumption, lamp power used, time in chamber, etc. This allows JPL to deliver accurate reports and invoices to their customers.

The latest GE RX3i hardware married to Ignition allowed Trimax to deliver a complete control systems upgrade for JPL/NASA.

Project Information

Created By:   Trimax Systems

Trimax Systems is a control systems engineering firm with over 30 years of control systems integration experience including design, engineering, programming, panel assembly, and industrial network setup and configuration. Trimax has over 80 designers, engineers, programmers, and technicians across three offices: Brea, California.; Orange, California.; and Dallas, Texas, servicing customers and projects located nationally and internationally. Trimax is an Inductive Automation Gold Level Certified Integrator for both SCADA and MES. In 2014, we became the first systems integrator to achieve Ignition MES certification. All of Trimax’s programmers are required to complete and maintain Ignition certification.


Project For:   NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory / Caltech

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in La Cañada Flintridge, California, and Pasadena, California. The JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for NASA. The laboratory's primary function is the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions.

Posted on September 1, 2016