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Project Type

Sponsored School Project
by Blue Origin


Jan - Mar, 2021


Team of 4

My Role

UX Research, Participant Recruitment, Test Moderation,
Data analysis and Study Report 


OpenMCT (Open Mission Control Technologies) is a next-generation mission control framework for visualization of data on desktop and mobile devices. It is an open-source platform that can be used for planning and operations of any system that provides telemetry data. 

Our client, Blue Origin, was interested in understanding how this tool may be improved to help space mission operators perform their tasks more efficiently.


Study Proposal

Identification of Focus Area


Planning and Preparing Usability Study Kit


Participant Recruitment and Usability Study


Data Analysis and Presentation to client

Study Proposal

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OpenMCT being an open-source data visualization tool that allows mission control teams to configure and observe telemetric data during mission operations, it is available for users to customize according to their own preferences. The goals of this usability study are to:

  • Test the current effectiveness of OpenMCT as a usable mission control tool

  • Understand how users customize their own mission control visualizations

  • Observe how diverse user expertise contributes to unique interactions with the tool.

Research Questions

  1. ​How do users organize data on the page for productive mission activities?

  2. How do mission control operators and other potential users uniquely customize their display layouts?

  3. What features of the tool deserve more articulation?




OpenMCT’s target users are people working in mission operations teams whose goals are to monitor/control data and build their own mission control visualizations. These users aren’t always those who operate in space, but ground workers or anyone interested in telemetry. As per our discussion with the client, we reached out to systems engineers, and people working in mission operations and flight operations. We aimed to include those familiar with but not limited to:

  • Data visualization / interpretation

  • Mission planning

  • Remote monitoring

We reached out to probable demographic via LinkedIn and Facebook groups for Air controllers, Mission operators, etc. Participants were from Blue origin, Boeing, University of Washington Aeronautics and Astronautics Department, etc.


Total 8 usability studies were performed and participants were categorised based on the following metric.

  • Highly experienced - Includes participants who have experience working with mission control software

  • Moderately experienced - Includes participants who were not directly but somewhat involved with mission control / similar software

  • Not experienced - Includes participants who were not involved with mission control / similar software

Usability Study

Usability Study

Heuristic Evaluation

We first familiarized ourselves with the software and each member did a heuristic evaluation of the system and then in group we ranked them according to severity. We identified several heuristic violations. Some are listed below:


  • User control and freedom (3: major usability problem, important to fix)

    • Users do not have the option to resize elements such as data columns.

    • Users do not have the ability to rearrange the small windows on the interface.

  • Help and documentation (2: minor usability problem)

    • It would be nice to have more instructions on how to use the software, outside of the onboarding tutorial.

    • The onboarding tutorial is extensive and is a lot to grasp in less than 5 minutes, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to revisit this tutorial after completing it the first time.

  • Match between system and real world (2: minor usability problem)

    • We noticed a lot of symbols and iconography with little context that the user is expected to learn to get familiar with, instead of any thumbnail images. The system should speak the users’ language, appear natural and logical.

Method and Test Environment

  • The study will be conducted as a moderated remote one over online video calls with participants sharing their screen and trying to think-out-loud while pointing their cursor as they navigate a few tasks using the OpenMCT tool within their web browser.

  • Participants will need desktop or laptop computers, a connection to the internet, and webcams for an hour long study.

  • OpenMCT is open source and available for everyone to use under any web browser. No pre-installation required.

  • A total of five people will be present in the test meeting. There will be one facilitator interacting with the test participant, one moderator and two others taking notes, making observations and data logging.

Study Kit

Study Kit

Data Analysis

Data Analysis

After the user interviews were done, we went through all the data and started putting down important snippets on the sticky notes using the online Miro app. Then we used card sorting technique to do affinity mapping and find patterns in the data.​


What is working well?

  • Being an online web-based software, it does not require installation.

  • Being an open-source software it can be modified according to requirement.

  • The initial tutorial demo is helpful and intuitive

  • Simple interactions make it easier to use. Eg: drag-drop functionality;  mouse cursor changes when hovers over a few functionalities; zoom buttons on “Rover Surface Operations” timeline are intuitive; search bar

  • Easy plots and widgets make it easier to design a mission layout. Eg: Rover Surface Operations has a timeline that visualizes the data on the left

  • The export to JSON is useful for tinkering and prototyping

Severity Ratings

The following 1 to 4 rating scale is used to rate the severity of usability problems:​​

4: Unusable: The user is not able to or will not want to use a particular part of the product because of the way that the product has been designed and implemented.

3: Severe: The user will probably use or attempt to use the product here, but will be severely limited in his or her ability to do so.

2: Moderate: The user will be able to use the product in most cases, but will have to undertake some moderate effort in getting around the problem.

1: Neutral: No major usability issues detected.



The following five themes were discovered from affinity analysis of the usability test data. Below are the five categories along with the suggested recommendations.

Category 1 - Universal Commands and Hotkeys

Category 2 - In App Navigation

Category 3 - Operation Management Analysis

Category 4 - Saving and Editing of Layout

Category 5 - Understanding and Editing of Widgets

System Usability Scale (SUS) Results

SUS Score for OpenMCT is 74.6875

Open MCT software is graded as B (grade point: 3.0) according to The Sauro-Lewis Curved Grading Scale.

​For reference: SUS ratings for other products are given below.



What went well?

  • Remote usability testing went smoothly thanks to screen-sharing and the tool being freely accessible on the web.

  • We gathered insights from a diverse set of participants who had something unique to say about mission control.

  • Weekly communication and  feedback from the client helped us get feedback on our research methods as well as keep track of our schedules.

What was challenging?

  • Due to our project’s specific demographic, it took a lot of extra effort to recruit participants who were qualified and willing to participate in the study.

  • This research project provided an opportunity to learn how to recruit a particular niche of participants. The team had to adapt to a few real world setbacks and improvise to achieve the desired results. One of our study had to be stopped midway owing to the participant's personal emergency, another participant requested to withdraw his data from the study as he did not feel comfortable contributing to the project.


We presented our research findings to a team of designers, researchers and engineers from Blue Origin. The team was impressed with the process followed and findings of our research.

Through all of our usability studies, our participants posed a polarizing question. 

"For a mission control tool, what matters more? 

Customizing and setting up a display


Utilizing and observing the display"

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