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SLS Flight Software Safety Issues at MSFC (Update)

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 5:48 PM.

Keith's 26 September note: Shortly after this original posting on 9 September Andrew (Andy) Gamble was summoned to MSFC Center Director Todd May's office to talk about QD34 issues. During subsequent closed door meetings MSFC management decided that they did not have any software problems - when in fact they do. A few days later the head of MSFC Safety and Mission Assurance suddenly announced his resignation. This is not surprising since the internal assumption is that the first SLS flight will have a built-in risk of failure of around 8%. This risk is being "baked in" to the design of SLS in part due to decisions being made at MSFC about software and avionics - decisions that are being made so as to not surface troublesome issues that no one wants to deal with.

Meanwhile, contractor employees working for QD34 who have surfaced the issues I reported earlier have suddenly found their funding yanked. Moreover, employees who are leaving or thinking of leaving as a result of raising concerns - are being specifically blackballed - by name - by MSFC management. Potential employers are being told by NASA MSFC that they risk wining new contracts - or losing existing contracts - if they hire these individuals.

According to an internal MSFC memo previously cited "Andy and George stated that Software V&V is really just a function of Software Quality Engineering. (Really, our QD34 customers seemed not to have a clue of what comprises Software V&V, or even Software Assurance or Software Quality for that matter.) False - NASA/MSFC procedural requirements, standards, guidebooks/handbooks, etc. clearly speak to the contrary. Just because Software Assurance isn't organized on SLSP (or at MSFC) with people explicitly assigned to a Software V&V group doesn't mean we don't do Software V&V tasks (separately from Software Quality tasks)."

This is no way to build a rocket folks.

Keith's 9 September note: NASA's SLS program has been experiencing budgetary and scheduling issues for years as noted in multiple GAO and OIG reports. The program has also had problems with technical issus such as software and avionics. Multiple sources report that one of the places experiencing significant problems is QD34 at NASA MSFC - where significant SLS flight software safety issues are mounting - issues that no one else is hearing about. The Branch Chief for QD34 is Andrew Gamble. NASA MSFC management - and perhaps the NASA OIG might - want to pay that organization a visit.

Keith's 9 September update: According to an internal memo there is a "lack of understanding by QD34 of the intent of NPR 7150.2B (A or B) [NASA Software Engineering Requirements] and of CMMI [Capability Maturity Model Integration] when it comes to a higher level of process, procedure, etc. rigor expected for Class A software than for Class C" and that actions by NASA MSFC QD34 management represent "a direct attempt by our QD34 customers to intentionally minimalize the differences to avoid making matters complicated and having to make any corresponding changes for SLSP at this time."

SLS Avionics: The Brain Without a Body, NASA

"Ultimately the avionics boxes and software have to work perfectly. But how can you be sure without putting it on the world's largest rocket and seeing how it works? That's the focus of the Integrated Avionics Test Facility - or IATF - at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center."

Earlier SLS/Orion posts


What Charlie Bolden Really Said At #IAC2016

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 3:17 PM.


Water Plumes on Europa

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 2:08 PM.

Evidence of Water Vapor Plumes on Europa, NASA

"Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes. The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa's ocean without having to drill through miles of ice."

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Tectonics on Mercury

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 12:12 PM.

Mercury is Tectonically Active, NASA

"Images obtained by NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft reveal previously undetected small fault scarps-- cliff-like landforms that resemble stair steps. These scarps are small enough that scientists believe they must be geologically young, which means Mercury is still contracting and that Earth is not the only tectonically active planet in our solar system, as previously thought."


NASA Headquarters Is For Sale

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 11:15 AM.

NASA's HQ, one of D.C.'s largest federal leases, offered for sale, Washington Business Journal

"Piedmont Office Realty Trust wants to shed one of the largest federally leased office properties in Greater Washington, NASA's Southwest Washington headquarters - another sign that investment sales activity is gaining momentum heading into the fall buying season."


SpaceX Vs #JourneyToMars - Fighting The Status Quo

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 11:04 AM.

Elon Musk's dream of going to Mars is SpaceX's biggest strength, and its biggest distraction, Quartz

"Scott Pace, a former NASA official, said that any company attempting to do as much as SpaceX needed to carefully assess whether it was pushing its workers too hard. "It would be ambitious for any company to do a schedule like that," Pace says. "When you look at changes in launch schedule that are increasing over historical norms, you should be worried whether or not schedule pressure is putting unacceptable strains on the workforce." SpaceX rejects out of hand the idea that it is pushing its workers too hard."

Between a rocket and a hard place: Elon Musk to give the speech of his life, Ars Technica

"It also seems likely that NASA won't offer substantial support, either. The space agency is building its own heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, and has its own #JourneyToMars. NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, has wholeheartedly supported SpaceX and commercial space activities in low-Earth orbit, but has been far less effusive about private businesses venturing into deep space on their own. Earlier this month Bolden flatly stated he was not a "big fan" of private companies building heavy-lift rockets. With its Falcon Heavy and BFR, that is exactly what SpaceX is doing."

- Why SpaceX May Get Humans to Mars - First, earlier post
- Yet Another NASA Mars "Plan" Without A Plan - or a Budget, earlier post
- NASA's SpaceX Mars Mission Briefing That NASA Is Not Telling You About, earlier post
- Update on NASA's #JourneyToNowhere, earlier post
- NASA Is Still Kicking The Can Down The Road on the #JourneyToMars, earlier post

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Raptor Roars

By Keith Cowing on September 26, 2016 7:32 AM.


Gary Johnson's Stance on Space Exploration

By Keith Cowing on September 25, 2016 7:42 PM.

Gaffe-prone Gary Johnson says humans must inhabit other planets, NY Daily News

"Gary Johnson might want to study up about Earth before worrying about other planets. The Libertarian Party presidential nominee -- who earlier this month infamously failed to recognize the Syrian city of Aleppo during a nationally televised interview -- said Sunday that the human race will ultimately be forced to live on other planets. "I mean, the plate tectonics at one point, Africa and South America separated and I am talking now about the Earth and the fact that we have existed for billions of years and will going forward," the gaffe-prone former New Mexico governor said on ABC's "This Week." "We do have to inhabit other planets. I mean, the future of the human race ... is space exploration. So, no, we should be prudent with the environment. We care about the environment," he said."

Gary Johnson's Solution For Climate Change Involves Moving to Other Planets, Gizmodo

"Look, what it points to also is the fact that we do have to inhabit other planets," Johnson continued. "The future of the human race is space exploration."

Keith's note: I just deleted half a dozen posts by readers that have nothing to do with the topic of this post: space policy. If you people cannot stay on topic I will shut off comments on election 2016 posts again.


SpaceX Identifies Possible Cause in Pad Explosion

By Marc Boucher on September 23, 2016 2:35 PM.

SpaceX AMOS-6 Anomaly Update 23 September 2016, SpaceX

"At this stage of the investigation, preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place. All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated. Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."

"... Pending the results of the investigation, we anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe."


Dialogue to Continue with China on Space Debris

By Marc Boucher on September 23, 2016 12:00 PM.

U.S., China will meet this year to talk space debris, SpaceNews

"In a keynote speech here Sept. 22 at the AMOS conference, Frank Rose, the assistant secretary of State for arms control, verification and compliance, said that the upcoming discussion would likely include talk of space debris.

While representatives from the U.S. and China have met previously to talk about civil uses of space, the two sides met for a separate discussion of military space topics for the first time in May. Space debris has been a divisive issue between the countries for nearly a decade."

Related: More satellite collision warnings to come with Space Fence data, SpaceNews

"A senior Pentagon official said the U.S. Air Force will need to rethink how it issues satellite collision warnings when a new space object tracking system goes online or risk overwhelming satellite operators and hardware systems with overly cautious alerts."

Marc's note: This isn't an issue that's going to go away. All nations must eventually sit down and deal with space debris. And its going to come at a cost. A safe, secure space environment is in everyone's best interest.

Next Thursday, September 29th at 2:30 pm ET, SpaceRef will broadcast live the International Astronautical Congress plenary session "Projection and Stability of the Orbital Debris Environment in the Light of Planned Mega-Constellation Deployments" which deals with space debris.

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NASA Launches iTech Innovation Program for the Journey to Mars and Beyond

By Marc Boucher on September 22, 2016 5:09 PM.

NASA iTech Fosters Technology Needed for Journey to Mars

"NASA is seeking innovative technology for the agency's future exploration missions in the solar system and beyond, including the Journey to Mars, from other U.S. government agencies, academia, the aerospace industry and the public through the new iTech initiative."

"NASA's iTech initiative is a yearlong effort to find innovative ideas through a call for white papers that address challenges that will fill gaps in five critical areas identified by NASA as having a potential impact on future exploration. The technology areas are: radiation protection; life support systems in space; astronaut crew health; in-space propulsion; and the ability to achieve very high-resolution measurements of key greenhouse gases."

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As SpaceX Heads to Mars with its Red Dragon Program, NASA Tags Along, A Win-Win for Both

By Marc Boucher on September 22, 2016 12:16 PM.

NASA FISO Presentation: NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission

"Now available is the September 21, 2016 NASA Future In-Space Operations (FISO) telecon material. The speakers was Philip McAlister (NASA HQ) who discussed "NASA Collaboration with SpaceX's Red Dragon Mission".

Note: The audio file and presentation are online and available to download.

NASA to have limited role in SpaceX's planned Mars campaign, Spaceflight Now

"Expertise, input and advice from seasoned NASA engineers will improve SpaceX's chances of nailing the first commercial landing on Mars as soon as late 2018, a senior space agency official said Wednesday, but Elon Musk's space transport company will likely seek more independence from U.S. government support on later expeditions to the red planet."

Programming note: SpaceRef will broadcast live Elon Musk's presentation, Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species, from the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara next week on Tuesday, September 27 at 2:30 pm ET.

Marc's note: We certainly live in a new age of exploration when a private space company is embarking on a mission that no government has yet to undertake.

That mission, to send an uncrewed technology demonstration human spacecraft mission to land on Mars has never been attempted. And make no mistake this is not the spacecraft that SpaceX would send to Mars with humans. It's a technology demonstration. The data collected by this mission will be invaluable to future manned missions to Mars and elsewhere.

Continue reading: As SpaceX Heads to Mars with its Red Dragon Program, NASA Tags Along, A Win-Win for Both.

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Will Congress Get the 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act and Other Bills Approved?

By Marc Boucher on September 22, 2016 8:20 AM.

Senate Commerce and House SS&T Committees Approve Space Bills, Space Policy Online

"The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee each held markups today of space-related legislation. The Senate committee approved the 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act and the INSPIRE Women Act. The House committee approved the TREAT Astronauts Act. Congress is only scheduled to be in session for a few more weeks in 2016, but if all parties are sufficiently motivated to reach compromise, there is more than enough time to get the bills to the President's desk before the end of the 114th Congress."

"The bill authorizes $19.508 billion for NASA for FY2017. It does not address funding beyond that one year, which begins October 1. The total is the same as approved by the House Appropriations Committee in its version of the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which has not been considered by the House yet. It is $202 million more than the Senate Appropriations Committee approved. The money is allocated to NASA's budget accounts in line with the Senate Appropriations CJS bill except that the extra $202 million is added to the Exploration account, which pays for SLS and Orion."

Marc's note: While Marcia almost sounds optimistic, there isn't much time left to get these bills passed. As usual, leaving bills to the last minute is par for the course. We'll see what jockeying occurs in the next few weeks.


- Commerce Approves NASA Transition Act, BOTS Act, and 3 Other Bills
- Chairman John Thune - Majority Statement - NASA Transition Act, 4 Other Bills
- Senator Bill Nelson - Minority Statement - NASA Transition Act, 4 Other Bills
- Bipartisan Astronaut Health Bill Passes Out of Committee
- The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration Congratulates Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Approval of NASA Transition Authorization Act
- CompTIA Supports NASA Authorization Bill


Has China Lost Control of Tiangong-1?

By Marc Boucher on September 21, 2016 8:55 PM.

China's Tiangong-1 space station 'out of control' and will crash to Earth, The Guardian

"China's first space station is expected to come crashing down to Earth next year, fuelling concerns that Chinese space authorities have lost control of the 8.5-tonne module."

"Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling," the deputy director of China's manned space engineering office, Wu Ping, was quoted as saying by official news agency Xinhua."

"Jonathan McDowell, renowned Harvard astrophysicist and space industry enthusiast, said the announcement suggested China had lost control of the station and that it would re-enter the Earth's atmosphere "naturally."


Jack Garman one of the Wonder Boys of the Apollo 11 Flight Control Team Passes Away

By Marc Boucher on September 21, 2016 9:09 AM.

Jack Garman, NASA engineer who 'saved' Apollo 11 from alarms, dies at 72, CollectSpace

"John "Jack" Garman, a NASA engineer whose knowledge of the computer aboard Apollo 11 saved the historic first lunar landing from a last-minute abort, died on Tuesday (Sept. 20). He was 72."

"Garman's death came after a several year battle with bone marrow cancer, according to an email by his wife that was forwarded to the Johnson Space Center retiree community and then shared with collectSPACE."

Steve Bales and Jack Garman: Wonder Boys of the Apollo 11 Flight Control Team By Craig Collins, NASA (In the NASA's Innovators and Unsung Heroes Series)

Americans who know a bit about the Apollo Space Program may recall that the first manned lunar landing - during the Apollo 11 mission - was a split-second away from being aborted. Twenty-six-year-old guidance officer Steve Bales was a key flight control team member who kept his cool while the onboard computer in the lunar module sent out a series of alarms.

Continue reading: Jack Garman one of the Wonder Boys of the Apollo 11 Flight Control Team Passes Away.

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NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 23 September 2016

NASA International Space Station On-Orbit Status 23 September 2016

Today: NanoRack Cubesat Deployer (NRCSD) Removal: FE-5 removed the NanoRack deployer from the Multi-Purpose Experiment Platform (MPEP) Japanese Experiment Module Airlock (JEMAL) Slide Table, following the successful deployments of 8 DoveSat satellites last week.

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