CAMBRIDGE, MA—When the Orion test spacecraft traveled to an altitude of six miles this summer, newly customized guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software developed by Draper for NASA’s Core Flight Software (CFS) made its first journey as well. Adding to the moment, the Draper team behind the application met a stringent new requirement set by NASA: develop the software so that it is platform- and project-independent.
It wasn’t so long ago that spacecraft operated for the most part on proprietary software. NASA changed all that when it released its CFS to the public, and made it open source. The goal was to provide reusable software in support of human space exploration programs.
Making software applications platform- and project-independent can be a challenge. Because every spacecraft has its own hardware requirements, creating software so that it can run with minimal customization regardless of hardware platform can be even more challenging.
Draper developed its guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software for Orion using a model-based design (MBD) environment. The company’s experience in flight software includes the Apollo Program, the Space Shuttle and Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser® spacecraft.
“The model-based development process in the aerospace sector has become indispensable for many reasons,” said Matthew Fritz, a space systems engineer at Draper who worked on the CFS. “Software can be developed and functionally tested very early in the project and well before any project hardware is even available. In this way, Draper’s approach fits hand in glove with NASA’s vision for CFS to be platform- and project-independent.”
MBD brought other benefits to Orion, added Fritz. “It enabled us to use a smaller team and accelerate development to deliver the GNC software three months ahead of schedule,” he said.
With the completion of the Orion test flight—officially known as the Ascent Abort-2 flight test—NASA says it has cleared the final hurdle in testing its Orion spacecraft. The test demonstrated that Orion’s Launch Abort System can steer the capsule and future crew to safety if an emergency occurs during ascent on the Space Launch System rocket. The flight test also served as a milestone in the agency’s preparation for Artemis missions to the Moon that will lead to astronaut missions to Mars