Down-to-earth security at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Down-to-earth security at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Nov 1, 1997 12:00 PM

Research and development for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is performed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), an operating division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, Calif. JPL built the Sojourner and Pathfinder spacecraft used in the recent Mars Pathfinder Project and is involved in another project to study the planetary rings around Saturn and its nine major moons - a $3.4 million unmanned mission named the Cassini Project after the 17th century Italian astronomer who first discovered the largest gap in Saturn's rings.

When it comes to security for its 177-acre facility, JPL comes back down to Earth. JPL's security directors wanted to upgrade the existing security system with state-of-the-art equipment that would improve safety and security for exterior and interior facilities. They decided digital multiplexing and remote control were needed to strengthen the CCTV security network and to monitor activity at the 250 access control points throughout 147 buildings.

More images needed It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize the benefits of combining multiplexers and high-density recorders. With a facility as large as JPL, digital multiplexing provided the technology needed to increase the amount and quality of recorded images.

Security officers can now monitor up to 16 cameras from a single multiplexer and record 16 full-frame images every nine seconds with a 50 percent reduction in dwell time between camera views. This allows JPL to record twice as many pictures.

"JPL's security system has been enhanced 100 percent with the addition of the multiplexers, because a separate recorder is no longer needed for each camera," says Brian Butts, systems engineer for OAO Corp., the designer and installer of the new system.

The multiplexers also offer easier viewing during playback. Using older sequential switcher systems, security professionals have to view the whole sequence even if they are only interested in a situation unfolding on one camera. Using the digital multiplexer, JPL security personnel can view a single camera and watch the scene unfold without interruption.

Despite the name, multiplexers are actually high-speed digital switchers that time-share from one camera to the next. By strict definition, a multiplexer should record all images simultaneously; today's products do not. Rather, they update only in sequential order, causing time between cameras. However, combining today's digital multiplexers with high-density recorders can reduce dwell time by nearly one-third, maximizing the number of images captured per camera.

JPL upgraded its security system to include seven Gyyr DigiScan DS16D digital-multiplex switchers, 10 TLC2100-SHD time-lapse VCRs and four DSRC-232 remote controllers for the digital multiplexers.

The system works in conjunction with 88 Cohu cameras, 14 JVC color video monitors and a Pelco CM8500 matrix system, which receives video signals using Network Video Technology's (NVT) video transmitters.

Each recorder has the capacity to record anywhere from two to 960 hours on one tape, and the multiplexers give security personnel the ability to play back, freeze or enhance video. The operator can choose to view one, four, nine or 16 cameras on a single screen at the same time, while each camera records a full-frame image.

Remote control challenges JPL has a central monitoring facility that is staffed by security guards 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As many as 14 guards may be on duty at one time to control access to the laboratory.

The DSRC-232 remote controllers allow the guards to control multiple camera switching at each building from the guard station. But JPL encountered some problems with using the remote controllers because they are designed to work within a limited distance. Some of JPL's buildings are more than 2,000 feet apart - beyond the reach of the remote control signals. To solve the problem, RS-232 line drivers from Black Box were used to amplify the signals.

Communication between the remote controller and a remotely located multiplexer is one way to protect a CCTV system against unauthorized programming changes since menus cannot be accessed with the DSRC-232.

Access control JPL uses Monitor Dynamics Inc. (MDI), Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., which recently partnered with Ultrak, Broomfield, Colo., to provide access to more than 6,000 badge holders using 250 badge readers throughout the facility.

Butts selected MDI's SAFEnet System to maintain security (alarms and motion detectors), access control, fire (alarming and sprinkler system) and energy. Nine monitoring and editing work stations are used to manage the large system and are manned by JPL's security guards 24 hours a day at various posts throughout the facility. The security guards can grant or delete a badge holder's access to certain areas at any time.

The access control system works with the CCTV system throughout the laboratory. If someone tries to access a badge reader who does not have access, an alarm will sound to notify security personnel at the central monitoring station to observe the activity captured on the camera at that location. The information is also stored on VCR tape for future reference.

JPL is in the process of upgrading its current badge reader system from barium ferrite to a Motorola system. The Motorola proximity badge readers are part of a no-contact, no-moving-parts system that allows users to simply hold their badge in front of the reader for access. The badge is then read through a radio frequency signal. The system prevents the lamination from peeling off badges prematurely as a result of everyday use.

Securing the nation's space research The new equipment allows operators to monitor activities in the laboratories where all manner of things happen, from exploring Earth and the solar system with automated spacecraft, to managing the Deep Space Network for spacecraft communications. Data acquisitions, mission control, radio science space study and other basic and applied scientific and engineering research are also common goings-on in the labs at JPL.

Two of the most crucial buildings are the main building - the Space Flight Operations Facility (SFOF), and the Micro Device Laboratory (MDL). The main building is where all space missions are monitored, and the MDLis where the devices that control many electronic operations on satellites are manufactured.

Because of security system solutions, employees at JPL can focus on the space frontier without worrying about their safety and security on the home front.

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