EL SEGUNDO, Calif., June 22, 2005 (PRIMEZONE) -- Astronauts traveling to the moon and beyond may not have to be rocket scientists to return their spacecraft to full system health should they encounter a malfunction along the way. They will receive significant help from a new integrated system health-management architecture that Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) is developing for NASA.
The modular, "open" architecture will use a "plug-and-play" approach -- not unlike that used in today's personal computers -- to interconnect and continuously monitor the functional health of key spacecraft subsystems such as power, propulsion, life support and structures. Spacecraft computers will use advanced health-management software to detect, identify and resolve problems in these subsystems. If the computers cannot resolve a problem automatically by reallocating available resources, they will provide interactive guidance to astronauts on how to "manually" make the necessary repairs.
Northrop Grumman is developing the integrated system health-management architecture as part of an Exploration Systems Research and Technology contract awarded to the company recently by NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The contract is worth up to $26.8 million over a four-year period if NASA exercises all of its options. The architecture will also support work that a Northrop Grumman-led team is currently doing to define design solutions for NASA's proposed Crew Exploration Vehicle.
"We're developing this architecture, its interface standards and software algorithms to support not only the health-management needs of the Crew Exploration Vehicle, but also habitation modules, lunar rovers and other exploration-system components that it may interact with," said Erv Baumann, Northrop Grumman's principal investigator on the project. "Its modular design will allow it to be upgraded easily as new, more capable health-management software and hardware subsystems become available."
A "self-healing" space-systems architecture with robust diagnostic and prognostic capabilities will be particularly important for extended-duration, deep-space missions where astronauts won't be close in time or distance to Earth-based mission managers and subsystem experts. It will also ensure that any problems in safety-critical systems as well as routine maintenance, planning and support issues are resolved in a timely, cost-effective way.
During the first year of the contract, Northrop Grumman will demonstrate its integrated system health-management architecture using high-fidelity software simulations of key subsystems, assisted by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Ames Research Center and the NASA Glenn Research Center.
During subsequent years, the company will replace the software simulations with progressively higher-fidelity hardware subsystems, and increase the scale and scope of the exploration vehicles and systems involved. These demonstrations will ultimately be conducted at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where functional environmental-control and life-support systems, power systems and other key subsystem modules will be incorporated into a demonstration of the integrated health-management system.
The integrated system health-management architecture envisioned for NASA's exploration systems is the first step in a longer-term effort to define interface standards that would support the development of flexible "intelligent modular systems." These systems would become the fundamental building blocks of re-configurable spacecraft and lunar surface facilities. Each intelligent modular system could function as a stand-alone system or could be linked with other intelligent modular system modules to create larger, more capable systems. Like an individual intelligent modular system, this "new" health-management system would be able to reconfigure itself to share all of its available resources among member parts.
"The creation of open-architecture standards for space-exploration systems will also create a more competitive, accessible market for commercial companies that would like to develop relevant hardware and software components," explains Baumann. "Just as in the personal-computer market, contributions from entrepreneurial 'outsiders' can lead to higher performance, lower-cost products."
The Crew Exploration Vehicle is the primary human space-transportation system for NASA's Constellation Systems, an infrastructure of human and robotic space systems that will allow humans to travel to the Moon and beyond beginning in the next decade. NASA is expected to select a prime contractor to begin design and development work on the Crew Exploration Vehicle in early 2006.
The integrated system health-management architecture is one of several Exploration Systems Research and Technology maturation activities that Northrop Grumman is pursuing to help NASA ensure that the Constellation Systems architecture is technically achievable, logistically supportable and economically sustainable.
For example, the company is developing an insect-like robot to autonomously inspect and maintain exteriors of spacecraft. The robot could work in conjunction with the integrated system health-management software to determine if a spacecraft is damaged and what resources should be used to make the repair.
The company is also working on a restowable, heat-resistant "skirt" that deploys around a spacecraft just before reentry to reduce heat damage to the spacecraft; an engine for a "space ferry" that would carry people and cargo between the lunar surface and lunar orbit; small, easily produced phased array antennas for satellites that use a low-cost electronically scanned array; and a family of lightweight, self-cleaning, anti-contamination coatings to address dust-mitigation requirements for future moon and Mars missions.
Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense company headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. It provides technologically advanced, innovative products, services and solutions in systems integration, defense electronics, information technology, advanced aircraft, shipbuilding and space technology. With more than 125,000 employees, and operations in all 50 states and 25 countries, the company serves U.S. and international military, government and commercial customers. Today, more than 20,000 of Northrop Grumman's employees are devoted to space-related projects.
CONTACT: Brooks McKinney, APR Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems (310) 331-6610 office (310) 864-3785 cell firstname.lastname@example.org