illustrated figures stand and sit at desks with computer monitors

Rehearsing for Launch

Explore the Webb Mission Operations Center to learn how our engineers are preparing for the communications and collaborations for successful launch and commissioning.

The Flight Operations Team has been preparing to fly the James Webb Space Telescope for several years now. Regular rehearsals, conducted in partnership with NASA and our mission partners, enable the team to practice routine and scheduled operations, such as monitoring systems and making course corrections. Rehearsals also provide essential experience analyzing and responding to possible anomalies: unexpected events on the observatory or on the ground that could disrupt operations. With every rehearsal, there are consistent outcomes: the team’s communication and performance improve, ensuring that when commissioning begins, they are fully prepared for operations. Explore Webb’s Mission Operations Center to learn how our engineers collaborate in preparation for launch.

Flight Control Room

Engineers in the Flight Control Room are responsible for monitoring various systems on the observatory, communicating problems to specialists in the Back Room, and transmitting operational commands to the observatory.

Front Row

Engineers on the Front Row monitor the general health and safety of the spacecraft and execute all commands.
People sitting at desk

The Ground Systems Engineer monitors connections to the Deep Space Network, verifies file transfers of scheduled command files, and ensures the link to the spacecraft.

The Operations Controller monitors telemetry, reports issues to the Mission Operations Manager, and directs the operations of the Command Controller and Ground Systems Engineer.

The Command Controller monitors telemetry, reports issues to the Operations Controller, uploads scheduled command files, and sends individual commands to the observatory.

Middle Row

Flight system engineers who typically work in the Back Room may operate in the middle row of the Flight Control Room during critical operations.
Illustration of an engineer at work in the middle row of the Webb Telescope Mission Operating Center

When needed, a Subject Matter Expert for a particular subsystem may be called to oversee specific critical operations.

Back Row

Engineers in the back row lead and manage mission operations.
Illustration of 3 engineers at work in the back row of the Webb Telescope Mission Operating Center

Mission Operations Managers facilitate and oversee all operations for Webb, and serve as the decision authority for planning and operations on behalf of the observatory.

The NASA Project Manager is responsible for major Go/No-Go decisions, and makes the final decisions for anomaly resolution. 


Illustration of hexagon with earth and satellites
Simulated Deep Space Network: After launch, the Flight Operations Team will communicate with Webb via the Deep Space Network, a global network of ground-based radio transmitters and receivers. During Early Commissioning Exercises before launch, these communications are simulated.
Illustration of computer server, code and Webb Telescope
Simulated Observatory: During rehearsals, a mix of hardware and software simulates the observatory and its subsystems. The simulator transmits realistic telemetry data to allow the Flight Operations Team to practice monitoring the spacecraft’s position, motion, orientation, temperature, power, and other operational parameters. The simulator receives and responds to commands from the team as the observatory would during launch and commissioning.


Illustration of several engineers working in the back room of the Webb Telescope Mission Operating CenterBack Room

Teams of Flight Systems Engineers from Northrop Grumman, NASA, STScI, as well as various academic, industrial, and international partners analyze and solve issues that arise in the power, control, software, scientific instrument, and other subsystems of the observatory. After receiving an anomaly alert via the Flight Control Room, engineers determine the cause of the problem, design a solution, and deliver instructions to be implemented by the controllers—just as they will once the observatory is in flight.


Illustration of 4 people working at desksRehearsal Anomaly Team

To train the flight operations team to successfully identify and resolve unexpected problems, the Rehearsal Anomaly Team from Northrup Grumman simulates a variety of anomalies that could occur during commissioning. From cruise ships entering the launch zone or fire evacuations within the building to antenna-pointing errors or temperature irregularities, anomaly scenarios provide the flight operations team with essential practice recognizing and characterizing issues, and then communicating effectively to continue operations.


Illustration of 2 back up flight control engineers working at desksBackup Mission Operations Center

A backup team of flight control engineers is on hand at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. In the event of a control center anomaly, such as an evacuation or loss of power, this team will take over operations. Control is passed back to the institute’s Mission Operations Center when the required systems and personnel are back online.


Illustration of mission planners sitting around a tableMission Planning

Mission Planners schedule contacts between the observatory, flight controllers, and the Deep Space Network; assist with the commissioning timeline; and design rehearsal scripts.