Thursday, January 17, 2008

Slip Sliding Away...

It was only a matter of time. Or a matter of schedule, rather. We are going to have to wait at least another year (if ever) to watch ARES-1Y and ARES-1 lift off. Viceroy Hanley gave in to the inevitable this week. And if ARES-1 does make it off the pad, launches will then have to occur at a fast and furious pace (launching on 3 month centers instead of the originally planned 6 months between flights) in order to hold the IOC date for the first manned flight.

And we suspect Hanley won't be on the invitation list to see that first flight either.

But wait, there's more. To address ORION's weight problem, the program paved a "parking lot" with every system in the vehicle and made each system prove its worth, "buying its way back" into the vehicle. We've already discussed how the system is, for now, staying under its weight limit by putting almost 2000 lbs of stuff onto a risk list that someday must get back into the vehicle before it is worthy of flight. Now, we find out, a similar game is being played with the ARES test program.

ARES has become the poster child for bad design and Steve Cook powerpoint presentations gone awry. As those technical issues continue to pile up, the minions have no choice but to slip the development schedule to accommodate the additional band-aid design cycles. So, naturally, the only place left to attempt recovery is...wait for it...the test program. Indeed, ARES is now going to implement a "parking lot" for every test contemplated between now and IOC. Each test will have to buy its way back into the program. You know where this is going.

When confronted with the obvious, the minions quote the "all-up testing" bible according to Von Braun. They say ARES is just like Saturn in that regard. What they leave out is the fact that our favorite german rocket scientist implemented a thorough system ground test program in advance of each full-up flight test. As a result, he KNEW each Saturn would fly successfully with a high degree of confidence. He didn't have to hope it would. In Vegas, the house hardly ever loses. In Huntsville, the tables may be turning.

But wait, there's more. Other program elements are also suffering under this "green light" schedule philosophy. CEV flight parts will be unavailable, on the current schedule, when it comes time to qualify CEV systems. Non-flight stand-ins will be qualified. Last time we checked, that was akin to cheating. Except this time, people's lives will be on the line. Astronaut lives.

And suppose one of those qual boxes experience a failure. Was it a design problem? Or the result of using a substandard part? The CEV schedule does not contain any contingency time for answering those questions and/or reworking the failed box. More schedule slips are inevitable.

But wait, there's more. How about that LSAM/Altair? The Apollo Lunar Module development program employed a propulsion system test element to weed out design and implementation defects before any flight units were built. This approach was necessary because the LM was being built at the edges of acceptable margins. Altair will be no different. The "minimal functionality" lander that the program just shared with industry is unflyable in its present form. No redundancy is evident and safety is not considered. And its already overweight.

So what is the first thing the program throws out? There will be no propulsion system test element built for Altair. Reason given: a test article costs 80% of a flight unit. That answer, however, is shortsighted. If the flight article doesn't work, the troubleshooting and redesign effort will exceed the 20% savings by far. Saving a penny to risk a dollar. The risk/reward equation is out of whack here. Its just common sense. Something the Emperor and his selected few seem to lack.

But wait, there's more. No, we can't do that to you anymore today. We've run out of anti-depressants.

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