Thursday, September 11, 2008

Passing with a Bad Report Card

"It's a big day," said the Emperor's puppet, Viceroy Cooke. "We poked and prodded ourselves pretty good today," said our favorite soon to be Italian waiter S. Cook. We have nothing to say and don't want to think too long about that comment.

But at the end of the day they all patted themselves on the back and declared victory for the ARES-1 PDR.


Despite the following not so minor issues, everything is hunky dory in the la-la land the minions live in:

• Design challenges remain in areas of environments and staging events.
• Processes for control of analysis and models, and IRD’s/ICD’s need to be clearly
established and practiced.
• Maturation of integrated test planning and resources required.
• Identification of technical risks and formulation of approved mitigation plans.
• Process and tools to enhance incorporation of operability into the design activities.

A lot of yellow/reds there, eh, fellas? Even school kids don't get passed along to the next grade with that many F's on their report cards.

But rather than holding their stillborn child back, they press on with the impending disaster. Thank goodness they will all be flushed, and ARES-1 right along with them, shortly after the elections. Like so many interns leaving their jobs in DC at the end of summer, we look forward to seeing the halls on E Street empty out in November.


Anonymous said...

I've seen some good work done with PDR's with
a couple yellows or reds but those were ones
where lots of margin remained on the books
and while certaian work was undone
the margin supported completion.

Ares and orion have so little margin this stuf
ff will kill them

Anonymous said...

The outcome of PDR should not be a surprise to anyone. The fox is guarding the hen house.

I have submitted hundreds of comments on those so called specs only to find out that they never make it to the boards for review. That's right, if they don't like the comment, it is simply discarded. They know that the required reviewers don't have time to look them over so they are accepted in the boards by acclaimation!

Actually there is a system engineering handbook that gives a fair description of the correct processes and procedures. When I bring it up to the authors, I get blank stares or silence over the phone. None of them had ever heard of it and it is too late now. Besides, we've done our part and you can fix it when you take over 'cause we're outta here, we've already been paid! That is the prevailing attitude among that bunch.

Ignoring all guidelines for the conduct of such reviews makes it very easy to get a passing grade and declare a rousing success.

One word of caution, interface documents do not a system make. If you don't know what the box is supposed to be doing, you sure can't determine how it interfaces with anything else.

I'm still waiting on the SRD to actually say what this monster is supposed to do, in concrete, measurable terms.

Until things improve, I wouldn't let that bunch design an outhouse!

Anonymous said...

It is too late now. Besides, we've done our part and you can fix it when you take over 'cause we're outta here, we've already been paid!

This whole thing is a horrible dream. I believe only reason Shuttle worked was that they were working off a solid post sputnik educational experience.

Apollo had that as its base so there was no way it could go wrong.

Clearly it's time for the private sector to take over, and if NASA wants to be involved in that they are going to have to come up with something quick. It's not for a lack of credible architectures.

This is a very clear US failure.

Retro said...

All projects have discreditors just as Ares I does. Apollo had its share of issues including the death of three astronauts on the pad. I predict Ares I will precede towards launch test early next year. If the launch is successful Ares I is a done deal. If a total failure then perhaps the program will crumble. Time will tell.
I detect a great deal of knit-picking, whining and nay saying here from those whose concept was not chosen. Grow up …its over Ares is the choice so get over it and support the program. We need constellation.

Anonymous said...

its over Ares is the choice so get over it and support the program.

Not a fucking chance in hell.

I don't support failure.

Anonymous said...

I must take issue with 'retro'. I can guarantee that you will hear no whining from me on this issue.

It isn't nitpicking - those hundreds of comments come from over 30 years of experience that includes both success and failure.

When they show me a design with two valves in series and tell me that it was done for increased reliability, my BS alarm starts ringing.

When they define the performance of the system with terms like 'to the greatest extent practicable'; 'the vendor will propose the newest technology'; 'the vendor may test or analyze'; 'the component will have a 35 year operating lifetime'; 'the rocket will be completely destroyed upon reentry'; and the infamous addition of springs and dead weight to overcome a critical flaw in the concept, must give one pause when evaluating the chances that it is going to work.

So, if 'retro' thinks it is all whining and nitpicking and that everything is really as the leadership says it is, then let 'retro' be the first to take a ride!

Retro said...

Ride the stick? Not me man no way would I want to ride a purely solid booster.

I'm not saying Ares I concept was the best choice. I'm saying best concept or not Ares I is going forward towards test flight. The critics can blog away to no avail. Griffin is convinced that Ares I issue's have solutions. And despite many naysayers it continues onward. I don't sense Griffin wavering in its support or having doubts. If the Ares I survives the first flights and proves success it will have solid grounded legs.

“Private space could do it better”

None of the private space companies have demonstrated that they're capable of jumping into NASA's shoes. Perhaps, and hopefully someday...certainly not now. That all remains to be seen. Just getting something into orbit would be a start. NASA did that 50 years ago. In the meantime private space needs NASA as source of seed income. Those who bash NASA, and eagerly anticipate failure....are in effect cutting the hand that feeds them.

Anonymous said...

What did you expect?

George W. Bush and Michael Griffin are both mentally unhinged.

Those who bash NASA, and eagerly anticipate failure are in effect cutting the hand that feeds them.

NASA doesn't feed me. Earth does. Since both George Bush and Michael Griffin couldn't care less about the planet Earth, why should I care about their pet fantasies? Except that Earth pays dearly for them.

Constellation is just another big screwup by the so called greatest nation on Earth. One little burp from Earth and its all over for the United States. Breath just slightly on a certain asteroid, and its all over for the mammals. Constellation isn't doing a single thing to put those realities into perspective.

Now click those boots together and march in lockstep to your destiny.

Anonymous said...

Ares 1 was a joke of a joke.

Had they wanted to do something to support
ISS, the use of an EELV would have gotten
NASA 90 percent of the way there.

this BS about supporting the program is just
typical NASA BS Management. Nasa did something
amazingly stupid and now everyone lines up
or gets fired.

Anonymous said...

Hey kt & retro, lets confine the discussion to Ares 1. Comments about the President are way off base and belong on Daily Kos. As to worrying about what we can't do anything about isn't going to solve the problem. Put the Kool Aid pitcher down and lets plan a response to the Ares 1 situation.

Yes, this thing has a life of its' own (funding)and will keep moving until the snicker factor gets high enough to get it cancelled.

The question is, do we, as industry professionals, continue to pour our lives into a project that clearly has huge, self induced problems? Can we, in good conscience, continue the charade knowing that eventually somebody is going to bet their life on the design?

One last thing, it was private contractors that built the rockets and space craft of the 60's, not NASA. It was contractor personnel that did the heavy lifting, not NASA. NASA people were in front of the cameras but it was contractor people that were making it happen.

Anonymous said...

Comments about the President are way off base and belong on Daily Kos

Actually, no, they're not. It's the president's program, remember? He gave a speech, and he wrote an executive order. I guess you missed it.

As to worrying about what we can't do anything about isn't going to solve the problem.

We're not worrying, we're TALKING about it. Apparently you have some kind of problem with it. Why is that?

The question is, do we, as industry professionals, continue to pour our lives into a project that clearly has huge, self induced problems?

That's YOUR problem not ours. There is no 'we', there is just 'you' and your problem.

One last thing, it was private contractors that built the rockets and space craft of the 60's, not NASA.

So tell us what is different now, except for the incompetence of the designers?

Retro said...

"One last thing, it was private contractors that built the rockets and space craft of the 60's, not NASA"

I think this may be a key reason why the Ares I design was selected over others. Griffin has put emphasis on keeping projects within NASA - (ten healthy NASA centers). Having listened to Griffin's recent remarks I sense he wants to hold this strategy and develop more internal capability. Right or wrong I believe that this (keep it NASA) strategy is driving many Ares-I decisions.

Anonymous said...

kt, whoa up there big fella! No more I hate the president and the sky is falling discussions.

We have a more pressing problem. retro alluded to it and that is the desire to have engineering competence within NASA. I admit that this is an admirable goal and deserves support. By making that our mission it just might save our own careers as well as untold thousands that are currently lacking direction.

If we do not take an active part in the development of that desired competence level, we will get burried in the BS.

I am going to make a radical suggestion: What if we were to train up this next generation of rocket scientists in the correct way to get things done? After all, one of our unwritten jobs is to mentor less experienced associates and you have to admit, from what we have seen...

If we did this, two things just might happen. First, Ares 1 when it gets reincarnated, just might become the success that everyone hopes that it will be. Second, we will have helped create the next generation of rocket scientists.

If we train them correctly, they will do a competent job. We have to get them out of the Apollo era parts catalogs and teach them to think for themselves. If we become proactive in this endeavour it just might turn things around.

Us old dudes would like to be able to kick back in the sand at Gulf Shores with the thought that we left behind a good group of kids that can get the job done.

We can't change the top of the program but we have a real opportunity to make a grassroots change that just might snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Is it worth a try? What say ye?

Anonymous said...

kt, whoa up there big fella! No more I hate the president and the sky is falling discussions.

Cuz you demand so on the internet?

Not a chance. The sky is falling :

George W. Bush is an incompetent president, but he is also an accomplished criminal by any sense of the definition.

What if we were to train up this next generation of rocket scientists in the correct way to get things done?

I'm already on it. But it has nothing to do with rocket science and everything to do with condensed matter physics :

Your ideas about 'how things outta be' are so lame, naive and irrational as to not even be worthy of discussion on a rocket forum.

You guys are so far behind the curve that it's going to take a miracle to bring you up to speed, and all you offer is prayer, hope and more 'amens', which is the reason why you have this problem in the first place.

Meanwhile, I've already moved on to the next steps. I'll have a package in the mail to Elon Musk on Monday.

I'll have a concrete facility proposal done by the end of the month. Already the hole is dug.

Meanwhile, continue on with your Ares I delusions, it makes no difference to me anymore.

I'm cured.

Antares said...


1) I, and many of my fellow civil servants, hate Ares and know Atlas is a better rocket. It's not just the contractors who are against Ares.

2) Griffin can decree we're going to keep design and integration in house. That doesn't mean we have the skills to do it, 'cuz we don't. Please tell me the last time MSFC completed a design-build-test-fly cycle for a launch vehicle.

Anonymous said...

Rocket Man's assessment is way too forgiving.

This past week, Constellation patted itself on the back for getting Ares I through its first preliminary design review (PDR) but glossed over the fact that Ares I still has to conduct a second PDR next summer to address the unresolved mitigation systems for the first stage thrust oscillation issue, with unknown consequences for the rest of the design. See the asterisk on the pre-board recommendation at the bottom of the last page of this presentation (add http://):

The Constellation press release and briefing also made no mention of the recent year-long slip in the Orion PDR to next summer. See (add http://www.):

and (add http://www.):

and (add http://www.):

So neither the Ares I nor the Orion preliminary design is complete, and one could argue that the Constellation program has been held back a year more than it’s been allowed to pass to the next grade.

More worrisome than the PDR slips are the grades that Ares I received in this partial PDR. The pre-board used a green, yellow/green, yellow, yellow/red, and red grading scheme, which can also be depicted as the more familiar A (4.0), B (3.0), C (2.0), D (1.0), and F (0.0) grading scheme. The pre-board provided ten grades against ten different success criteria from NASA’s program management handbook. The ten grades had the following distribution:

One “Green” (A, 4.0) grade
Two “Yellow/Green” (B, 3.0) grades
Four “Yellow” (C, 2.0) grades
Three “Yellow/Red” (D, 1.0) grades
No “Red” (F, 0.0) grades

So seven of Ares I’s ten grades were a C or a D. Ares I is NASA’s planned primary means of crew launch over the next couple of decades and should define technical excellence. But instead, the project earned a grade point average of 2.1, barely a “gentleman’s C” (or a “gentleman’s yellow”). See the pre-board grades on pages 3-7 of this presentation (add http://):

And even more worrisome than the PDR slips and grades are the areas in which the project is earning its lowest grades. Among areas in which Ares I earned a yellow/red (or D) grade and the accompanying technical problems were:

The preliminary design meets the requirements at an acceptable level of risk:
– Induced environments are high and cause challenges, including pyro shock to avionics and acoustic environments on reaction and roll control systems.
– No formal process for control of models and analysis.
– Areas of known failure still need to be worked, including liftoff clearances.

Definition of the technical interfaces is consistent with the overall level of technical maturity and provides an acceptable level of risk:
– Process for producing and resolving issues between Level 2 and Level 3 interface requirement documents and interface control documents is unclear, including the roles and responsibilities of managers and integrators and the approval process for identifying the baseline and making changes to it.
– Numerous known disconnects and “TBDs” in the interface requirement documents, including an eight inch difference between the first stage and ground system and assumption of extended nozzle performance not incorporated in actual first and ground system designs.

See the pre-board grades on pages 4-5 of this presentation (add http://):

So, in addition to the unknowns associated with the unresolved thrust oscillation system for Ares I:
– the vehicle’s electronics can’t survive the shocks induced during stage separation;
– the vehicle’s control systems will be shaken apart and unable to keep the rocket flying straight;
– the vehicle is going to hit the ground support structure on liftoff;
– the project is assuming performance from advanced rocket nozzles that don’t fit within the vehicle’s dimensions;
– the project can’t even get the height of the rocket and its ground support to match; and
– there’s no good modeling, analytical, or requirements control necessary to resolve any of these issues.

And the real kicker from the press conference was the revelation that Constellation manager Jeff Hanley only has 2,000-3,000 pounds of performance reserve left at the program level and that Ares I manager Steve Cook has no margin left to contribute to unresolved future problems like thrust oscillation impacts to Orion. See (add http://www.):

We know from prior presentations that Orion’s mass margin is down to practically zero (286 kilograms or 572 pounds) for ISS missions and is negative (-859 kilograms or -1,718 pounds) for lunar missions. See p. 25, 33, and 37 in this presentation(add http://www.):

When added to Hanley’s margins, that means that the entire Ares I/Orion system is down to ~2,500-3,500 pounds of mass margin for the ISS mission and ~300-1,300 pounds of mass margin for the lunar mission. That’s between seven and less than one percent mass margin against Orion’s 48,000 pound total mass. Typical mass margin at the PDR stage should be on the order of 20-25 percent, about triple the best-case assessment here. Ares I/Orion still has seven years of design and development to go and at best has only one-third of the mass margin it should have at this stage.

Even worse, those Orion mass margins don’t account for the mass threats still to be allocated in next year’s Orion PDR. In the presentation above, the 90th percentile mass threats for the ISS and lunar missions are separately about 900 kilograms or 2,000 pounds. That reduces the total Ares I/Orion mass margin to between -1,700 and 1,500 pounds. That’s a negative (negative!) three percent mass margin on the lunar mission and only a positive three percent mass margin on the ISS mission, at least seven times less margin than what the program needs at this point in time.

It's hard to see Ares I/Orion flying with so many problems -- managerial, technical, procedural, and performance/mass. Just about everything that could be done wrong is being done wrong. It's far past time to pull the plug.

Anonymous said...

I think it is funny that the Emperor's ham-handed efforts to strengthen NASA will in the end result in the precise opposite effect. This sort of simple incompetence, driven by foolish egomaniacal men, with attendant costs into the billions, will not be appreciated in the present economic atmosphere. People grow tired of fast and loose solutions that just don't work.

There are many lessons to be learned here:

You cannot get the best decisions and retain the best decision-makers when you create an atmosphere of intimidation and vicious retaliation against ideas not your own. Being aggressive and the boss does not make you right. Losing access to smart people with perspectives different than your own is very dangerous.

You cannot get accurate trade study results when you presuppose your own ideas to be obviously the best and then hire incompetent know-nothings to flesh out that conclusion. This is the equivalent of driving with eyes closed. You must engage with all the REAL experts, gather much data, take reasonable time, be transparent in your decision-making and be willing to change in the light of new knowledge.

Design excellence comes from excellent designers with decades of seasoning through real-world hardware experience. Not from academic conceptualizing and design by fiat from senior management. Those with the most direct and most current experience and most successful track records must be given priority over those without such credentials no matter what. The use of impressive but irrelevant credentials such as "astronaut" to override this process should be looked upon with suspicion. You follow the advice of such high-ranking newbies at your peril.

Mediocre ideas will remain precisely that and cannot be made excellent by band-aids, no matter how sophisticated or costly those band aids are.

Building from a foundation that already works as an end-to end system is always better than trying to cobble together something from a lot of pieces that have never worked together. The integration of systems into a functional entity is the hard part- not the components. Start with a working rocket, upgrade as you need, design only what MUST be designed to get new capabilities. That will keep you plenty busy.

Making decisions based on political manipulations instead of technical excellence will burn you so many ways later you won't know where to start slapping the flames out first.

It is important to know WHY you are doing something first. Without a first-principles understanding of motivation you will never know what is important to keep and what is not. You cannot assess what makes one approach better than another- leaving you wandering in the desert of aimless design. A statement like "We're going back to the moon" is not a "why". It is this systematic lack of purpose that undermined ISS and will corrode Lunar initiatives.

Anonymous said...

Well said! Well said!