Audit: NASA Making Progress With Artemis Software

The first Artemis rocket stage is guided toward NASA’s Pegasus barge Jan. 8 ahead of its forthcoming journey to NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. (Credits: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has made progress in improving the development of software for flights of the Space Launch System (SLS) booster and Orion spacecraft that will take American astronauts back to the moon, according to a new audit from the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The software is on track to be ready for the first launch of SLS and an automated Orion capsule in 2021, the review found. However, challenges remain in the over budget and behind schedule effort.

The Exploration Ground Systems program is developing two types of software: the Spaceport Command and Control System (SCCS), which will operate ground equipment; and the Ground and Flight Application Software (GFAS), which will interface with flight systems and ground crews.

“We found the EGS Program has taken appropriate steps to manage GFAS by implementing a flexible software development process and exercising appropriate oversight and risk management,” the audit stated. “However, we found that challenges from simultaneous hardware and software development efforts resulted in revisions to GFAS and contributed to increased development costs.

“In addition, NASA and Lockheed Martin—the contractor developing the Orion crew capsule—took 2 years to resolve information technology security issues that delayed the GFAS team from obtaining remote access to critical test equipment at the contractor’s laboratory. Overall, as of October 2019 GFAS development has cost $51 million, about $14 million more than originally planned,” the report added.

The audit made the following recommendations to NASA:

(1) establish procedures for continually revising documentation and processes for efficient integration of flight software development and testing requirements to minimize the risks associated with parallel program development, and

(2) document and implement lessons learned regarding the process of identifying, negotiating, and implementing information technology security mitigation steps to obtain remote access and functionality with contractor laboratories.

NASA accepted the recommendations and proposed actions that the OIG found to be responsive to the concerns.

A summary of the audit follows.

NASA’s Development of Ground and Flight Application
Software for the Artemis Program

NASA Office of Inspector General
March 19, 2020
IG-20-014 (A-19-008-00)
Full Report

Results in Brief

Why We Performed This Audit

NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the Moon by late 2024 is dependent on three separately managed space flight development programs: a crew capsule called the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion); a heavy-lift rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS); and launch infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center (Kennedy) referred to as Exploration Ground Systems (EGS). Collectively, these three programs are integral to the first uncrewed test mission of the integrated Orion/SLS vehicle that, at the time of our review, was slated to launch in late 2020.

In support of NASA’s lunar exploration efforts known as the Artemis Program, the EGS Program manages two major software development projects:

(1) the Spaceport Command and Control System (SCCS), which will operate ground equipment such as pumps, motors, and valves, and monitor Orion and SLS during launch preparations, and

(2) the Ground and Flight Application Software (GFAS), which will interface with flight systems and ground crews at Kennedy.

In a March 2016 audit, we reported that SCCS had significantly exceeded its initial cost and schedule estimates with development costs increasing approximately 77 percent and release of a fully operational version of the software slipping 14 months.

In this audit, we evaluated NASA’s management of GFAS development, specifically whether NASA has taken appropriate steps in its software development and adequately managed the risks given the complexities of parallel hardware and software development.

To conduct this audit, we identified key technical risks, reviewed project schedule status, analyzed financial data, reviewed relevant documentation used in GFAS development, and interviewed program officials, engineering staff, and contractors.

What We Found

To accomplish its mission, the EGS Program must move vehicles to launch pads, manage and operate the equipment required to integrate crew capsules with rockets, and launch the integrated vehicles into space. Importantly, GFAS— intended to provide computer console applications and displays for pre- and post-launch activities for Orion and SLS— was the third-most critical task in terms of schedule to meet the Artemis I launch date of November 2020.

We found the EGS Program has taken appropriate steps to manage GFAS by implementing a flexible software development process and exercising appropriate oversight and risk management. However, we found that challenges from simultaneous hardware and software development efforts resulted in revisions to GFAS and contributed to increased development costs.

In addition, NASA and Lockheed Martin—the contractor developing the Orion crew capsule—took 2 years to resolve information technology security issues that delayed the GFAS team from obtaining remote access to critical test equipment at the contractor’s laboratory. Overall, as of October 2019 GFAS development has cost $51 million, about $14 million more than originally planned.

Although EGS managers expect GFAS to be ready in time to launch Artemis I, it is essential that the Agency incorporate lessons learned from cross-program development, integration, and testing challenges to minimize risks to future software development.

What We Recommended

As NASA prepares for the Artemis I launch and matures techniques and testing across the SLS, Orion, and EGS Programs, we recommended the Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations:

(1) establish procedures for continually revising documentation and processes for efficient integration of flight software development and testing requirements to minimize the risks associated with parallel program development, and

(2) document and implement lessons learned regarding the process of identifying, negotiating, and implementing information technology security mitigation steps to obtain remote access and functionality with contractor laboratories.

We provided a draft of this report to NASA management, who concurred with the recommendations and described planned actions to address them. We consider the proposed actions responsive and will close the recommendations upon completion and verification of the proposed actions.