Security panel has “great concern” about NASA’s plans to test the Moon mission software

Security panel has "great concern" about NASA's plans to test the Moon mission software
Teams from NASA's Mitchell Assembly Facility took the core stage to the barge in January, which will take it to a test stand in Mississippi.
Enlarge / Teams from NASA’s Mitchell Assembly Facility took the core stage to the barge in January, which will take it to a test stand in Mississippi.


An independent panel evaluating the safety of a NASA activity has raised serious questions about the space agency’s plans to test the airline’s software for its lunar mission.

During a meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel on Thursday, one of its members, former NASA Flight Director Paul Hill, expressed the panel’s concerns after speaking with the directors of NASA’s first three Artemis missions. These include the space launch system rocket for Artemis I and a test aircraft of the Orion spacecraft, and then the human aircraft for the Artemis II and III missions.

Hill said security panels have expressed concern about the lack of “end-to-end” testing of software and hardware used during these missions, rather than starting the journey through landing. Such extensive testing ensures that the flight software is quite suitable for a variety of vehicles and in a variety of environments, including launch trebulance in space.

“The panel is particularly concerned about the end-to-end integrated testing capability plan, especially for flight software,” Hill said. “There is no end-to-end integrated avionics and software testing capabilities. Instead, multiple and separate labs, simulators and simulations are being used to test software subsets.”

The safety panel was also struggling to understand, obviously, why NASA did not learn its lesson from the recent failed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. (Boeing is also the primary contractor for the main stage of the space launch system rocket).

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Prior to a test flight of the Starliner Crew Capsule in December 2019, Boeing did not conduct end-to-end tests, integrated for a docking mission with the International Space Station. Boeing turned the test into a split, including a 48-hour deadline from launch by docking at the station instead of running a software test. As a result, the spacecraft was almost lost on both occasions and did not complete its initial goal of reaching the orbiting laboratory.

Lessons learned

Hill cited a report owned by the NASA Center for Engineering and Safety (NESC) released on September 8, which raised similar concerns about attempts to run software tests at multiple centers and labs.

“It’s not clear that panelists take advantage of the lessons learned in their current plans and processes,” Hill said. “The NESC report highlights the need to build as many flight systems as possible for success, such as your goal of testing how NASA operations teams train you to fly and fly the way you train.”

In response to these concerns, a NASA spokesman said the agency would actually conduct the test from end to end – although he acknowledged that this would be done on multiple occasions.

“NASA is conducting integrated end-to-end testing for the software, hardware, avionics and integrated systems needed to fly Artemis missions,” said Katherine Hambleton. “Using the agency’s sophisticated software development laboratories, teams from SLS, Orion and Exploration Ground systems use actual flight hardware and software, as well as emulators, versions of the team software that each team employs to test their code and how the system works. – Supports both system-level interface testing and integrated mission testing to ensure software and avionics systems work together. “

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After the Starliner crash, he said, NASA’s chief engineer formed an independent review team to evaluate all Artemis I critical aircraft and ground software activities. These recommendations have been folded in preparation for the upcoming Artemis mission, which could begin in late 2021 or 2022.

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