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Mission Control Center, nerve centre for the round-the-world flights
The Mission Control Center and Si2, in constant contact
Solar Impulse’s round-the-world trip depends in part on the relationship between the Mission Control Center (MCC) in Monaco and the Solar Impulse teams around the aircraft. A full-blown virtual air-traffic control tower, the centre is staffed by 30 people divided into 4 hubs:
- Flight Strategy and Forecast (simulation)
- Flight Engineering
- Air Traffic Control
Altran’s Flight Strategy and Forecast team
Within the MCC, the Altran Flight Strategy and Forecast team works out the aircraft’s route. Christophe Béesau and the consultants are in constant contact with the three other MCC hubs in order to take into account all possible variables, and to remove the uncertainties associated with this round-the-world trip in a solar aircraft.
The Altran team is made up of three people. Two are in charge of operational simulation tasks. The third has a supporting role, which is essential for managing changes to computational tools developed by Altran to meet Solar Impulse’s exceptional needs, or to verify new hypotheses.
Before arriving at this operating framework of a remote control tower for the flights around the world, more than 39736,2 billion kilometres have been made by virtual flights allowed the team to try out different operating modes. Thanks to this use of intensive computing, gone are the days of the first forecasts on a blank sheet and elaborate calculations in an Excel file!
Altran’s engineers also provides support in two other critical areas:
- Create and maintain the “virtual copilot” system to facilitate the solo pilot on this extended journey;
- Manage security analysis to ensure the plan satisfies authority requirements to obtain certifications and ‘permit to fly, thanks to a feasibility assessment showing the ability of the plane not to fall. During the flight, the team devoted to this mission is permanently ready to assist the pilot and to take the best decisions if needed.
The partnership with Solar Impulse was built over time: past missions, including Solar Impulse Across America in 2013, illustrate how important and strong the relationship is. The activity of the simulation centre within the MCC during the round-the-world flights is the culmination of this skill sharing from Altran.
One leg of the round-the-world trip at the heart of the MCC
In the four to five days prior to the hypothetical start date, the Altran simulation team carries out calculations to design and optimise a flight plan solution. The weather forecast is updated every six to twelve hours. The Altran team works in shifts, taking turns to ensure an on-site presence 20 hours a day. If the latest simulations do not invalidate the departure window being considered, Christophe Béesau gives the green light to take off. The flight engineering, meteorology and air traffic control hubs also give their verdict, allowing the mission director and pilots to make the final decision.
To experience the Solar Impulse adventure from the MCC’s perspective, visit the blog by Christophe Béesau, Altran Head of Strategy and Flight Forecasts for Solar Impulse.