An independent panel that assesses the safety of NASA activities has raised serious questions about the space agency’s plan to test flight software for its Moon missions.
During a Thursday meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, one of its members, former NASA Flight Director Paul Hill, outlined the panel’s concerns after speaking with managers for NASA’s first three Artemis missions. This includes a test flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for Artemis I, and then human flights on the Artemis II and III missions.
Hill said the safety panel was apprehensive about the lack of “end-to-end” testing of the software and hardware used during these missions, from launch through landing. Such comprehensive testing ensures that the flight software is compatible across different vehicles and in a number of different environments, including the turbulence of launch and maneuvers in space.
“The panel has great concern about the end-to-end integrated test capability plans, especially for flight software,” Hill said. “There is no end-to-end integrated avionics and software test capability. Instead, multiple and separate labs, emulators, and simulations are being used to test subsets of the software.”
The safety panel also was struggling to understand why, apparently, NASA had not learned its lessons from the recent failed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, Hill said. (Boeing is also the primary contractor for the Space Launch System rocket’s core stage).
Prior to a test flight of the Starliner crew capsule in December 2019, Boeing did not run integrated, end-to-end tests for the mission that was supposed to dock with the International Space Station. Instead of running a software test that encompassed