Simulation Practices First Flight of New Orion Program

Flight Director Mike Sarafin studies a simulated scene on a computer/monitor, as a flight control team of about two dozen JSC-based personnel continues its preparations for EFT-1. Image Source: NASA

Flight Director Mike Sarafin studies a simulated scene on a computer/monitor, as a flight control team of about two dozen JSC-based personnel continues its preparations for EFT-1.
Image Source: NASA

May 28, 2014 – This week, Lockheed-Martin participated in a joint integrated simulation covering the pre-launch and in-orbit phases of an Orion mission. During the exercises, teams had to deal with the types of problems that could require making real-time decisions before and during an actual mission.

Employees of Lockheed Martin joined members of the Orion Mission Management Team, the Test and Launch Control Center, the Engineering Support Team and United Launch Alliance for the two-day simulation at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It’s a milestone that the team has been looking forward to for two years.

“It’s the first flight of a brand new program,” said Mike Sarafin, lead flight director for Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1). “There’s been a lot of testing done on the ground, but we’re going to really, no kidding, prove that this thing can fly.”

With no crew aboard Orion for the first two missions, flight controllers will serve as the eyes and ears monitoring the health and status of the spacecraft. If something goes wrong, it will be up to them to fix it.

All of the team members have previous experience at space shuttle flight control consoles, but this won’t be quite like any mission they’ve flown before.

“Math is still math, engineering is still engineering, physics is still physics,” Sarafin said. “But the spacecraft subsystems, the design, the capability is all different. So we had to start from scratch and build our own displays and products and procedures.”

They did that with the help of the mission control engineering team, which happened to be planning a major upgrade of all three of the main flight control rooms. The Mission Operations Exploration Office already had decided it would be necessary to modernize the facility in such a way that maintenance and operations costs would go down by half when the agency decided that EFT-1 would take place in 2014. The timing worked out perfectly for the two projects to develop side by side.

“Exploration Flight Test-1 will be the first time we’ve used this new equipment and platform,” said Jimmy Spivey, manager of the Mission Operations Exploration Office and mission operations for the Orion Program. “A lot of the training we’ve been doing with the flight control team has helped us wring out the system. It’s just been fantastic for us — having this test flight in this timeframe has been wonderful.”

Overall, Spivey said, the process has gone smoothly. The testing has revealed flight software problems the team was able to work through and repair with plenty of time to spare. They’ve done simulations, tested out new tools and communication loops in the redesigned control room and verified that Orion-formatted data could successfully be transmitted to mission controllers. The preparations aren’t complete, but Spivey and Sarafin agree the team will be ready when it’s time to launch.

“When we show up on a mission day, we take for granted that our tools are going to work,” Sarafin said. “But there’s a lot of work that goes into that, and we’re in that phase now.”

Meanwhile, Spivey said, the team is enjoying the experience.

“I can’t tell you how many times team members have commented on what a big morale boost it is to get back in the flight control room and see spacecraft data,” Spivey said. “It’s been great to watch their reactions and dedication to getting us ready to fly Orion.”

As NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion Program, Lockheed-Martin is responsible for conducting EFT-1 later this year.