An independent committee 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.
During a meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Committee on Thursday, one of its members, former NASA Flight Director Paul Hill, expressed the committee’s concerns after speaking with executives about NASA’s first three missions to Artemis. This includes a test flight of the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft for Artemis I, followed by human flights on 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 during these missions, from launch to landing. Such extensive testing ensures that flight software is compatible with different vehicles and in different environments, including launch turbulence and space maneuvering.
“The panel is very concerned about integrated end-to-end test capability plans, especially for flight software,” Hill said. “There is no possibility of integrated electronics and end-to-end software testing. Instead, multiple and separate labs, emulators and simulations are used to test software subsets.”
The security panel also struggled to understand why, apparently, NASA had not learned its lessons from recent failed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, Hill said. (Boeing is also the main 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 did not conduct comprehensive end-to-end tests for the mission to be docked with the International Space Station. Instead of running a software test that lasted about 48 hours from start-up to anchorage at the station, Boeing broke the test into pieces. As a result, the spacecraft almost disappeared twice and did not complete its primary goal of reaching the laboratory in orbit.
Hill referred to an exclusive report by the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), published September 8, which raised similar concerns about the attempt to conduct software tests in many centers and laboratories.
“Their current plan is not obvious to everyone and the procedures take advantage of the lessons learned,” Hill said. “The NESC report points out that as many flying systems as possible should be developed to succeed in order to experience flying in the same way that NASA operations teams train the way you fly and the way you train.”
Responding to these concerns, a NASA spokesman said the agency would, in fact, conduct end-to-end tests – although it acknowledged that it would take place at several facilities.
“NASA is conducting comprehensive end-to-end testing of the software, hardware, avionics and integrated systems required to fly Artemis missions,” said Kathryn Hambleton. “Using the organization’s state-of-the-art software development labs, teams from SLS, Orion and Exploration Ground Systems use real hardware and flight software, as well as emulators – software versions that each team uses to test their code and how it works. integrated system – to support system-level interface tests and integrated dispatch tests to ensure that software and avionics systems work together. “
In the aftermath of the Starliner disaster, he said, NASA chief engineer set up an independent team of critics to evaluate all critical Artemis I flight and ground software activities. to fly in late 2021 or 2022.