An independent panel evaluating the safety of NASA’s operations has raised serious questions about the space agency’s plan to test aeronautical software for its lunar missions.
During Thursday’s meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Committee, one of its members, former NASA Director of Aviation Paul Hill, outlined the group’s concerns after speaking with managers for NASA’s first three Artemis missions. The space launch system for Artemis I includes the test aircraft of the Rocket and Orion spacecraft, and later the human aircraft on the Artemis II and III missions.
Hill said the security team was intimidated by the lack of “end-to-end” testing of software and hardware used during these trips. Such extensive testing ensures that the flight software is compatible with different vehicles and different environments, including the turbulence of launch and maneuvers in space.
“The team is very interested in integrated testing capability programs from team to end, especially for aeronautical software,” Hill said. “There is no end-to-end integrated avionics and software testing capability. Instead, multiple and separate labs, prototypes and simulations are used to test software subgroups.”
The security team also struggled to understand why NASA did not learn its lessons The latest failed test flight Of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, Hill said. (Boeing was also the primary contractor for the main stage of the space launch system rocket).
Prior to the test flight of the Starliner crew capsule in December 2019, Boeing had not conducted integrated, final-to-final tests for the mission to go aboard with the International Space Station. Instead of conducting a software test that covered approximately 48 hours via docking from startup to station, Boeing broke the test into particles. As a result, the spacecraft was almost lost in two cases and did not fulfill its primary purpose of reaching the orbit laboratory.
Hill cited a privacy report by the NASA Center for Engineering and Safety (NESC) released on September 8, which raised similar concerns about attempts to conduct software testing at multiple centers and labs.
“It is not clear to team members that their current plan and processes apply to the lessons they have learned,” Hill said. “NESC reports that NASA’s mission teams fly the same way you train flight paths, as well as the way you train flights, as well as the best point you need to make to make flight systems as successful as possible with the goal of testing as you fly.”
In response to these concerns, a NASA spokesman said that, in fact, the final test would be drawn up – although he acknowledged that this would be done in a number of facilities.
“NASA is conducting integrated final to final testing of the software, hardware, avionics and integrated systems needed to fly the Artemis missions,” said Katherine Humbleton. “Using the agency’s state-of-the-art software development labs, SLS, Orion and Exploration Ground Systems teams use real aviation hardware and software, as well as prototype versions of the software that each team uses to test their code and how it works. Integrated Software Software and Avionics Support both system-level interface testing and integrated task testing to ensure performance. “
After the Starliner crash, NASA’s chief engineer set up an independent research team to evaluate all Artemis I critical aircraft and ground software operations. Those recommendations folded in preparation for the upcoming Artemis trips, which could begin flying in late 2021 or 2022.