An independent panel evaluating the safety of NASA’s operations has raised serious questions about the space agency’s plan to test flight software for its lunar missions.
Former NASA flight director Paul Hill, one of its members, explained the panel’s concerns at the Aerospace Safety Advisory Committee meeting on Thursday after talking to managers about NASA’s first three Artemis missions. These include the test launch of the space launch system rocket and Orion spacecraft for Artemis I and the manned aircraft of the Artemis II and III missions.
Hill said the security panel was concerned about the lack of “end-to-end” testing of the software and hardware used in these missions, from launch to landing. Such a thorough inspection ensures that the flight software is suitable for a wide variety of environments, including the turbulence of space launches and maneuvers across different vehicles.
“The panel is very concerned about end-to-end integrated test capability plans, especially for flight software,” Hill said. “There is no end-to-end integrated avionics and software test capability. Instead, multiple separate labs, emulators, and simulations are used to test the software’s subsets.”
The security panel was also struggling to understand why NASA did not learn its lessons Recent failed test flight Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, Hill said. (Boeing is also the primary contractor for the main stage of the space launch system rocket).
Prior to a test flight of the Starliner crew capsule in December 2019, Boeing had not conducted integrated and final tests for the mission, which was to be docked with the International Space Station. Instead of conducting a software test of approximately 48 hours from launch to docking to the station, Boeing broke the experiment into pieces. As a result, twice the spacecraft was almost lost and the primary goal of reaching the orbiting laboratory was not completed.
Hill cited a proprietary report by the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NSLC) published on September 8, which raised similar concerns about attempts to conduct software tests at multiple centers and labs.
“It’s not clear to panelists that their current plan and processes apply to their lessons,” Hill said. “The NSSC report states that NASA’s operational teams should develop as many flight systems as possible for success, with the goal of training you to fly the way you fly and experimenting with the way you fly.”
In response to these concerns, a NASA spokesman said that in fact the agency would conduct end-to-end inspections even though they agreed to do so in multiple multiple across missions.
NASA is conducting integrated end-to-end testing of the software, hardware, avionics and integrated systems needed to fly the Artemis missions, ”said Katherine Hambleton. “Using the agency’s state – of – the – art software development laboratories, teams from SLS, Orion, and Exploration Ground Systems use real flight hardware and software. To support system level interface testing and integrated mission testing to ensure. “
In the aftermath of the Starliner crash, NASA’s Chief Engineer set up an independent review team to evaluate all Artemis I critical flight and software operations. Those recommendations are being rolled out in preparation for the upcoming Artemis missions, which will begin flying in late 2021 or 2022.