Role: User Experience (UX) Researcher
Platform: WebGL on secure military networks
Development Platform: Unity3D
Team Size: 4 to 10
Development Time: 2019 (Joined August 2020) to Present
A Space Domain Awareness application designed for the United States Space Force Guardians. Built with a focus on short training time and ease-of-understanding for Guardians without previous aerospace experience to be able to easily view and analyze their satellites and ground-based radars in the space environment.
About the Project
Designed for the Guardians in the United States Space Force (USSF), Space Cockpit is an advanced visualization application designed to provide the tactical space operator with comprehensive Space Domain Awareness. Space Cockpit provides a comprehensive tool for Space Force Guardians to view and analyze their assets in the space environment. Leveraging the User-Centered Design approach, Space Cockpit was built to shorten training times and enhance user-friendliness for operators with little-to-no conventional aerospace training.
Role: User Experience (UX) Researcher
Conducted user research to identify pain points in end users’ current workflows and possible improvements
Designed new features and improvements
Programmed new features
Bug and quality assurance testing
Reviewed and approved new feature additions and changes to the application design and construction
Liaised with primary customers and stakeholders to provide updates on the application’s progress and future plans
Led application demonstrations for higher-up military personnel including several 3-star Air Force and Space Force Generals
This project is under an NDA. All descriptions of my work are left vague to adhere to the contract. Press releases are linked below for additional information.
Space Cockpit Overview
Space Cockpit is a space domain awareness application designed to provide the tactical space operator with a common operating picture of the space environment. This application fuses live DoD and commercial satellite data with 3-D gaming technology and machine learning to equip satellite operators with the tactical and visual information they need to manage space assets. Operators can visualize an asset’s location in orbit, simulate an asset’s future environment, and track an asset’s proximity to other space objects. This application is deployed on Platform One and available to the DoD.
Development on Space Cockpit began in 2019 by Saber Astronautics at the innovative DoD software factory, Space Camp. Focused on a user-centered design approach, Space Cockpit integrates end-users into all steps of its development to ensure that the application will solve the pain points that operators encounter with their current workflows and programs. Designed for users with little to no previous space knowledge, Space Cockpit has managed to reduce training times down to just 45 minutes or less compared to competitive applications that can take up to weeks or even months to gain proficiency.
User Interviews and Usability Tests
I joined Saber Astronautics' Space Cockpit team in August 2020, right after the official creation of the Space Force. Before the Space Force, Space Cockpit was originally in development for an Air Force Space Wing. However, with the creation of the sixth military branch, our primary Space Wing customer was restructured into a Space Delta and as a result, gained many squadrons with different objectives and focuses.
My first task on the team was to learn about these new squadrons and their needs. Once I understood the project and created the test plans, I met with operators and discussed who they are, their current workflows and pain points, and what is most important to their job. After my research, I created a list of recommendations and suggestions on how to improve the project to fit the newly formed Space Delta. With this data and my analysis, I met with the development team to discuss the implementation and prioritization of the new user-defined features and improvements. I continue to conduct user research as frequently as I can.
Screenshot of Space Cockpit
Communication with the Primary Customer
Every week, I meet with the Person of Contact (POC) of the primary Space Delta customer. In these meetings, we discuss the current progress of Space Cockpit including recently completed features, in-progress features, any bugs and major blockers as well as user research resources and findings. With constant communication with the POC, I have been able to resolve issues before they become a major problem and communicate high-priority information to the development team to meet deadlines.
Bug Testing, Design, and Finished Feature Reviews
Every day, I spend a couple of hours testing the application. Any bugs or possible improvements I find, I write them down with reproduction steps, screenshots, and videos. I have helped the team find and test over 100 bugs that have since been fixed to create a stable project.
Through testing the program with users, I have discovered many ways that the application could improve its usability. One of the features I spearheaded was the controls panel. With two different camera modes with varying controls, I was able to design a panel that displayed the controls for each camera mode and allowed the user to remap the controls as well, letting users tailor Space Cockpit to their needs.
Every time a Jira ticket is completed, I review the ticket to make sure that all of the acceptance criteria has been met and to ensure that the new feature is bug-free.
Developing New Features
Beginning July 2021, I started writing code and developing new features in addition to my other responsibilities. With Space Cockpit accessible by a URL, I programmed a new feature that allows third-party DoD applications to easily integrate a visualization with Space Cockpit into their application. The URL API features HTML Query String Parameters that allow developers to indicate the space assets that they want to be added to the scene and specified visualization tools turned on.
I have also been paired-programming with the Lead Developer on the project. Together, we have programmed 7 features since August 2021 (as of October 2021). We practice test-driven development in our DevSecOps pipeline.
Demos and Business Development
One month into my time at Saber Astronautics', I began helping my coworker with demos of Space Cockpit to important military personnel. Over a couple of months, I have had the responsibility of giving demos on my own. Since then, I have demoed the application to multiple 3-star generals at major military summits and events.
In addition to the Space Cockpit development team, I have joined the Business Development team and other smaller project teams as the projects are granted funding contracts. I have helped write proposals, find and communicate with stakeholders, and conduct user interviews for new projects.
At a Space Cockpit demo with General John F. Thompson
The following links contain articles released about Space Cockpit (dated written dd/mm/yyyy):
"Saber Astronautics Deploys Flight Software Space Cockpit to the US Space Force" (Published 19/04/2021)
"Space Cockpit a new way to visualize space operations" (Published 03/12/2020)
"Microsoft's Flight Simulator 2020 Blurs the Line Between Tools and Toys" (Published 20/10/2020)
"Platform One modernizing DOD software development to enable digital operations" (Published 17/07/2020)
"SATELLITE SYSTEMS, SATCOM AND SPACE SYSTEMS UPDATE" (Published 01/05/2020)
"USAF awards Rhea Space Activity with LUNINT contract" (Published 24/04/2020)
"Emerging Lunar Intelligence Field to Shape Space Ops" (Published 21/04/2020)
"The Air Force Wants a Way To Monitor Traffic...Around the Moon" (Published 16/04/2020)
"Air Force Developing Technology to Track Space Traffic Near Moon" (Published 15/04/2020)
"Air Force eyeing technology to monitor space traffic near the moon" (Published 14/04/2020)
"Rhea Space Activity Advances US Ability To Gather Intelligence In Cislunar Space" (Published 10/04/2020)
"US success continues for Saber Astronautics" (Published 09/04/2020)
"USAF Awards Saber Astronautics with Contract for VR Space Ops Center" (Published 18/03/2020)
"Sprint Advanced Concept Training (SACT): A renaissance in collaborative international space operations" (Published 2020)