Examples of Operations Activities at Malin Space Science Systems

Malin Space Science Systems offers and provides tactical and strategic operation of government and commercial space flight instruments at its San Diego, California facility.

Collectively, the MSSS staff has over a hundred years of experience with operating deep space flight instruments, particularly imaging systems. Cross-trained for spacecraft instrument uplink, downlink, and data archiving activities—and working closely with spacecraft engineers and instrument research scientists—the MSSS operations team is thorough, reliable, effective, and efficient. The team has imaged more than 99% of Mars at an unprecedented 6 meters per pixel resolution, and they have validated and archived hundreds of thousands of images since the 1990s.

MSSS operations experience includes:

  • Ground Data System (GDS) design, development, custom software production, implementation, and maintenance.

  • Monitoring of the health and safety of cameras operating in deep space.

  • Planning, commanding, retrieving, and processing of data from cameras operating in deep space.

  • Data validation and public archiving of space camera data (e.g., with the NASA Planetary Data System, PDS).

MSSS has conducted long-term operations for the following NASA space camera systems:

  • Mars Global Surveyor’s Mars Orbiter Camera  (1996–2006)

  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Mars Color Imager (2005–Present)

  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Context Camera (2005–Present)

  • Mars Science Laboratory’s (Curiosity Rover) Mast Cameras (2012–Present)

  • Mars Science Laboratory’s (Curiosity Rover) Mars Hand Lens Imager (2012–Present)

  • Mars Science Laboratory’s (Curiosity Rover) Mars Descent Imager (2012–Present)

  • Juno’s (Jupiter orbiter) Junocam (2016–Present)

  • Mars 2020 (Perseverance Rover) Mastcam-Z Cameras (2021–Present)

  • Mars 2020 (Perseverance Rover) Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering – aka "WATSON" and SHERLOC Autofocus and Context Imager – aka "ACI" Imagers  (2021–Present)

MSSS personnel have also contributed to the Mars Exploration Rover effort (Spirit and Opportunity; 2003–2019), first by relaying data from the rovers to Earth through the Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera, and then through contributions to the tactical commanding and operation of the rover Microscopic Imagers and Engineering Cameras.

In addition, MSSS conducted interplanetary cruise phase operations for the following space cameras. Unfortunately, all three of these spacecraft were lost before starting to operate at Mars:

  • Mars Observer’s Mars Observer Camera (1992–1993)

  • Mars Climate Orbiter’s Mars Color Imager (1998–1999)

  • Mars Polar Lander’s Mars Descent Imager (1999)

MSSS also prepared to operate the Phoenix Mars Descent Imager (2007–2008) but NASA decided not to operate this camera owing to technical concerns on the spacecraft side of the interface. The MSSS operations team did, however, command usage of the camera's onboard microphone late in the Phoenix mission, but the data return was unsuccessful.