If the Shuttle has to get to anything else in orbit, the Rendezvous FDO makes it happen.

A specific and additional certification beyond Orbit FDO was defined to handle both deploy-retrieve and ground-up rendezvous planning and operations. All Orbit FDOs were able to execute non-Day-of-Rendezvous (DOR) burns, but special training and simulation preparation was allocated for the DOR shift support from the FDO console.

The FDO is prime for computing ALL rendezvous maneuvers until onboard sensor data becomes available.

Common rendezvous maneuvers:

  • NC – controls phasing between chaser and target in the future
  • NH – sets up chaser to be at a defined delta-height from the target at a future time
  • NSR – makes the chaser coelliptic with the target
  • NPC – controls and nulls the planar difference between the chaser and the target
  • Day-of-rendezvous set: NCC, Ti, MC1, MC2, MC3, MC4

As mentioned above, any certified Orbit FDO could plan and execute the non-DOR maneuvers, but usually the Rendezvous FDO, along with the Flight Design and Profile Support teams, would have planned the overall rendezvous profile long in advance, so that the maneuver updates were fine tuning the trajectory, as opposed to a complete “from-scratch” profile. If and when that was required, it was the responsibility of the Rendezvous FDO (and his teams) to develop.

DeployRetrieveDeploy-Retrieve missions involve deploying a payload, performing a separation maneuver(s), phasing away from the payload, stationkeeping for a pre-defined time, and retrieving it during the same mission.

Typical Deploy-Retrieve payloads: SPAS, SPARTAN, WSF

Station-keeping constraints

  • Payload communications range
  • Orbiter-to-payload minimum range
  • Minimize perturbations and phasing maneuvers
GroundUpGround-up missions are much more complex

The Orbiter must be launched into a “phantom plane” that will match the target’s orbit or a planned “control box” some number of days later, taking into account orbital perturbations and all intervening maneuvers.

Ground-up missions require Launch Window/Launch Targeting computations and a plane change maneuver somewhere in the rendezvous profile.

OMS-2 is used as a phasing maneuver, as are separation burns associated with deployables.

Ground-up rendezvous missions usually have very tight propellant budgets and are much more sensitive to launch slips than Deploy-Retrieve missions.

LaunchWindowPrecise launch times computed from planar and phasing constraints

Planar window

  • Defined by amount of ascent performance and/or thermal constraints

Phase window

  • Defined by minimum altitudes, propellant available, etc.

Actual launch time and rendezvous day determined by the overlap of the two windows.

DayOfRendezvousWhen Rendezvous RADAR and/or Star Tracker data is acquired on the target, the onboard relative navigation state is more accurate than ground solutions, and onboard maneuver computations become prime, with the ground solution serving in a backup role.

The FDO is responsible for evaluating the various ground solutions based on all available vector sources (ground, PROP, and FILT), discussing the maneuver with the Rendezvous GPO, and recommending further action to the Flight Director.

In the event that the onboard computers are unable to target the burns, the FDO can provide accurate solutions based on the onboard relative state.

In the event that the onboard state vector is corrupted by bad sensor data, the FDO will be able to “reset” the relative state.

Random Ramjet Ramblings

Various thoughts and musings that tumble from my brain onto Ye Olde Interwebbes.
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Becoming Santa

Becoming Santa

Santa Claus. Father Christmas. Kris Kringle. St. Nicholas. Papa Noel. Me.

13 Minutes – a podcast review

13 Minutes – a podcast review

“13 Minutes to the Moon” – an excellent BBC podcast focusing on the behind-the-scenes heroes of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13.

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The space exploration advocacy website of Roger Balettie, former Flight Dynamics Officer in NASA’s Space Shuttle Mission Control Center.

Select a menu tab to the left for detailed links or one of the main sections below:


The Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO, pronounced “fido”) is a Flight Controller in the Mission Control Center responsible for the overall trajectory, or flight path, of the Space Shuttle and all related payloads or other space-bound vehicles associated with the Shuttle.

Read about the:


"Houston… Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Since 1965, the Mission Control Center (MCC) has been the nerve center for America’s manned space program.


Space- and NASA-based blog entries.

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13 Minutes – a podcast review

13 Minutes – a podcast review

“13 Minutes to the Moon” – an excellent BBC podcast focusing on the behind-the-scenes heroes of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13.



It’s been 40 years since the launch of STS-1, and the excitement of that day never faded.

Tango Delta

Tango Delta

A new adventure on the red planet has begun.