NASA is about to send astronauts from the United States to space again, nearly a decade since the last time. But NASAs approach this time is to work with commercial companies that play a leading role in key decisions about manned flights, some of which now appear to be drawing the attention of security experts.
Boeing and NASA officials are expected to release the results of an independent survey next week. The survey is aimed at a series of problems that Boeing encountered during its unmanned test of its Starline manned spacecraft at the end of December last year. But in an interview, members of NASAs security advisory panel talked about some of Boeings test decisions, which led to questions about the Starlines readiness for manned flights.
Crucially, the security advisory group learned earlier this month that Boeing did not conduct a complete end-to-end integration test of the Starline spacecraft in the joint launch alliances Atlas V rocket system integration laboratory. This test is usually able to show how all software systems of each component in the mission respond to each other in each maneuver. Through the test, we can find problems encountered by Boeing later in the mission.
Its very detailed. You have to do that, said Christopher saindon, a former member who ended the panels term in mid February. It surprised the group. Of course, there must be loopholes in the test protocol.
On December 20, Boeings Starline spacecraft launched, but in the implementation of the docking mission with the international space station, the software problems of the spacecraft eventually led to the mission failure. It is reported that the internal clock of the spacecraft is 11 hours ahead of schedule, resulting in a series of key operations missed and into the wrong orbit. Subsequently, the communication problem caused by the base station in this area led to Boeings failure to send the orbit change order. Boeing finally judged that the company concluded that the Starline spacecraft would not be able to reach the space station.
But in the process of bringing the spacecraft back to the ground and rechecking the software, Boeing also found another problem with the spacecraft, which may lead to the collision between the return capsule and the service module after the separation of the spacecraft. Fortunately, the control team corrected the problem before the return capsule returned to the ground on December 22 local time. But a lot of problems with the spacecraft have led NASA to require a comprehensive review of Boeing software, a process that requires analysis of about a million lines of code.
Software problems are also plaguing another part of Boeing. The Department is dealing with the crash of the Boeing 737max. The accident killed 346 people and grounded the Boeing 737max.
But saindon added, that doesnt mean its not a business, does it? Theyre trying to be efficient and economical.
Boeing said it followed all the test procedures required by NASA before the Starline test flight. Prior to the mission, NASA reviewed Boeings flight readiness and approved its continuation.
Earlier this month, John Mulholland, vice president and project manager of Boeings commercial astronaut program, said in an interview that teams passed a series of integration tests to check different parameters before the Starline spacecraft entered the formal qualification test. He did not specifically address the full end-to-end system integration testing that the security advisory group was concerned about.
When we review our software validation process, we review the end-to-end process. Obviously, at least these two software problems are completely through the process used to detect and correct problems. So were looking at each workflow and finding ways to make the software more robust, says mohran
George nield, a member of the security advisory panel and former deputy director of commercial space transportation for the Federal Aviation Administration, said that because of the commercial nature of NASAs manned space program, suppliers have greater flexibility in deciding how to test equipment. All NASA does is approve tests that are valid or require higher test certification.
Its challenging (and potentially expensive) to test software in a real world environment, nield said ... You always want to test computer software connected to all real hardware, but the problem is that if the software is used to control the system during launch or space flight, you cant test the real situation on the ground at all.
The Security Advisory Group hopes to find out as soon as possible why Boeing decided to skip the full end-to-end integration test. Before that, experts could only speculate about the possible impact of the launch of the Starline spacecraft.
Because two obvious problems (in space flight) occur on the system interface, we speculate that there are some flaws in the integration test, said don McErlean, a former director of aerodynamics, mechanical engineering and industrial design and current team member of L-3 technologies integration. The reason for this defect is one of the ongoing investigations by NASAs independent review panel.
Saindon said the security advisory panels advice to NASA is to study carefully now and participate more in the testing process of commercial astronaut project suppliers. Boeing and SpaceX, the space exploration technology company, will carry astronauts on the test flight after the unmanned test flight.
Boeing initially received $4.2 billion to complete the project, compared with $2.6 billion for SpaceX. SpaceXs unmanned test flight in March 2019 was successful without any major problems. SpaceX is expected to test fly the manned dragon spacecraft with astronauts later this year. Due to the problems encountered by Boeing in the unmanned flight test, it is not clear whether the company will repeat the unmanned flight test of the Starline spacecraft. If you decide that the next manned flight is going to take place, you have to work very hard to review the software and make sure that all integration tests have been completed, said seandon Boeing said on its fourth quarter earnings conference call at the end of January that it had set aside $410 million to prevent another unmanned test flight of the Starline spacecraft. (Chen Chen) source of this article: responsible editor of Netease science and technology report: Ding Guangsheng, nt1941
Boeing initially received $4.2 billion to complete the project, compared with $2.6 billion for SpaceX. SpaceXs unmanned test flight in March 2019 was successful without any major problems. SpaceX is expected to test fly the manned dragon spacecraft with astronauts later this year.
Due to the problems encountered by Boeing in the unmanned flight test, it is not clear whether the company will repeat the unmanned flight test of the Starline spacecraft.
Boeing said on its fourth quarter earnings conference call at the end of January that it had set aside $410 million to prevent another unmanned test flight of the Starline spacecraft. (Chen Chen)