The Importance of a Great User Interface (UI)

Brad Bode

Brad Bode

CTO & Co-Founder of ATLAS Space Operations

Remember that door you pulled instead of pushed only to be denied entry? Yeah, that one with the handle you grab to… push. My kids, after hearing me say this about various things in life, would say, “Bad UI.” And, they’d be right.

A great user interface (UI) impacts many of your daily activities whether you realize it or not. Apple Pay, ATM machines, washing machines, doorknobs, counter top heights… the list goes on and on. There is even a dark side of user interfaces called “dark patterns,” which trick you into doing something you normally would not. 

At ATLAS Space Operations, we spent time focusing on the machine-to-machine interface knowing that, some day, we would focus on a new user interface. However, we’ve always felt it’s not enough to simply have a UI. Rather, the UI must offer features that haven’t been seen before, but are essential to successful satellite operations. Task Insights and Free Time are key to that effort.

Door with push sign as an example of bad UI

What is Task Insights?

Since 2019, ATLAS has been internally using a tool called Task Insights within our Freedom™ software. Now that the tool has been used tens of thousands of times and provided our operations team with actionable information, customers can utilize these insights for their own missions. Task Insights leverages Freedom’s metrics system to examine every detail of the satellite link from the antenna to baseband to cloud connection. With expert feedback, we have isolated 34 different evaluation criteria that determine if a pass is a success or failure.

User Interface with Pass and Success Rate

Examples include: 

  • Did it move through status changes? (Scheduled, Downlinking, Processing, etc.)
  • Is EbN0 in the expected range? 
  • Is behavior of Antenna Az/E?
  • Are frame errors nominal?
  • Was data downlinked? 
  • Were commands sent/uplinked?

As a customer, you may have concerns about the success of your communications. While the ATLAS team is continually monitoring each pass, it is important that you have the same set of tools to perform root cause analysis and respond quickly when necessary.

As “NewSpace” matures, ATLAS is seeing more and more single satellite launches supported by the commercial sector with the intent of testing out new communication sensors. These single satellites often inform 1) future phases of satellite and constellation development, and 2) viability of the mission.

With budgetary and time constraints in mind, companies need to be up and running quickly. Hence, having immediate insight to successful passes is critical. This is just one example of how a great UI can save an organization time and money. Now to push the value even further, ATLAS incorporated the Free Time feature within the UI.

What is Free Time?

There are always trade offs when attempting to schedule passes or contacts. Am I guaranteed the time? If I lose the time will it be detrimental to make contact with my spacecraft? Can I pay more and be guaranteed the time? Can I afford more? 

Freedom user interface showing the minutes and duration

At ATLAS, we understand those tradeoffs and offer a simple solution to visualize the likelihood of receiving the time you need. Free Time gives you the percentage of overlap with conflicting visibilities across the entire network. That means you can pick a 100% pass and be virtually guaranteed access (barring errors).

Obviously for the cost conscious user this gives them the freedom and reliability needed to prove out their business model. No surprises, no unknowns.

What Does This Mean for ATLAS Customers?

For new customers it means they can get started quickly, without performing the costly step of machine-to-machine integration. This reduces friction and engineering expenses allowing smaller, less latency sensitive spacecraft to begin receiving data as soon as possible. Additionally, this assists with onboarding as a new customer. 

Freedom user interface details with data

Rather than wait for engineering team to leverage our API (Java, Python, REST), you can quickly begin the process of testing with features such as:

  • Adding, removing, or editing satellite configurations
  • Request time on an antenna
  • Request a specific visibility
  • Specify minimum duration requests
  • Download data
  • Filter information (Satellite, Visibility, etc)
  • View upcoming Tasks / Passes
  • View Task Request details

Obviously this will handle the bulk of all receive only communications with your satellite and, as we like to say at ATLAS, just get started.

Existing customers that have no significant user interface can begin to visualize all of their task requests or make last minute additions to their schedule.

One more thing… It’s free.

ATLAS does not charge additional fees for its User Interface or Insights. Rather, we consider this part of the overall ATLAS value proposition. What’s more, we will be rapidly updating the capabilities embedded in the UI to include the full set of features our API offers (Overrides, metrics monitoring, etc).

To learn more about the Freedom UI or schedule a demo, contact ATLAS. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you achieve mission success.

Click here to view Brad’s original post on LinkedIn.

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