In the news
Astronauts Define Cockpit Elements for Crew Exploration Vehicle
Aviation Week & Space Technology
06/19/2006, page 46
Craig Covault Houston
Piloting the CEV
NASA’s Astronaut Office is leading a Crew Exploration Vehicle (0EV) cockpit team to define all CEV piloting elements, including a greater software-based automated operating philosophy than on any previous U.S. manned spacecraft.
The cockpit team, based at the Johnson Space Center (JSC), is refining concepts for instrumentation, computer displays, stowage and myriad habitability issues for the CEV Crew Module (CM) that by 2014 will be the command post for astronauts transiting to the International Space Station and then returning to the Moon about 2018.
The JSC group will continue to lead cockpit design even after either the Lockheed Martin team or Northrop Grumman/Boeing team is selected as 0EV prime contractor in August because the cockpit design will remain a NASA responsibility during the 0EV development.
Active NASA astronauts and engineers are not yet using contractor simulated cockpit mockups and avionics, other than to answer questions under restrictive procurement regulations. Both contractors have such mockups and system facilities already at JSC or other contractor team sites.
NASA has, however, built its own rudimentary 0EV simulators and cockpit mockups that are not electrically active. These facilities are being used to define initial 0EV man-machine relationships to guide how 0EV systems are monitored, how the vehicle will be flown and where items will be stowed.
The Command Module must be able to carry up to six astronauts to the ISS, or four astronauts on lunar missions, and land them safely on Earth after a planned reentry or unplanned launch abort.
The CM cockpit design is one of the more challenging aspects of the CEV program, says Jeff Fox, cockpit team manager for the 0EV Project Office at the Johnson Space Center here. It is inherently tied to every system in both the CM and Service Module (SM) and every aspect of flight operations. Likewise, many factors key to the cockpit design also affect other 0EV system designs.
Flying six people in pressure suits along with space mission stowage in the relatively small CM capsule is a huge challenge in itself. One not so small operational detail is that all those people are going to need a toilet, also a part of CM cockpit definition.
Although the CM will be about 40% bigger than the old Apollo Command Module from an outer-mold-line perspective, the 0EV cockpit will have to support up to double the Apollo crew complement for station trips and an added fourth crewmember for lunar missions.
The baseline Block 1A CM configuration is expected to have 29.4 cu. meters (1,038 cu. ft.) of pressurized volume, with about 12-15 cu. meters of that habitable space. That is about twice the Apollo command modules internal habitable volume.
One measure to increase internal usable space will be a much smaller instrument panel than Apollos wall-to-wall one. The Apollo command module had hundreds of switches, the shuttle orbiter has more than 1,000, while the 0EV CM will have just tens or less.
The cockpit team includes the NASA Johnson 0EV Project Office, the Mission Operations Div., and the NASA engineering, life science and human factors community. It also has participants from other NASA centers that will be directly nvolved in 0EV development.
Major areas of emphasis are calculating the specific volumes of internal space the crew will need to do particular tasks, says astronaut Rick Mastracchio, who has just completed an assignment as head of the overall cockpit team. With that also comes the need to define those tasks in the first place, he says. Stowage studies are also crucial because how much weight and volume is allotted for stowage directly affects habitable volume and how the crew uses that interior space.
Keeping the cockpit design as a NASA in-house project “is much different than many of the other 0EV systems that will be almost purely contractor-provided,” says Mastracchio. NASA decided it has the expertise to keep that lead spacecraft cockpit design responsibility in-house, Fox says, giving it substantially more astronaut input than previous manned spacecraft development.
Another key 0EV aspect that is being kept in-house is launch abort system and procedures design–and the Kennedy Space Center is also heavily involved with that, as well as JSC.
“Although the vehicle and cockpit will be highly automated, one thing we really want to do is make sure this is a ‘crew- centered’ and designed cockpit–something astronauts want to get in, rather than have to get in and [be] forced to use what non-astronauts have laid out for them,” Fox says.
The initial cockpit design concepts are being roughed out based on assumptions that can only become facts once a 0EV winning contractor and its overall spacecraft design is selected in August.
“It is a bit of an unusual and difficult time,” Mastracchio says. “We are trying to keep it fair and not provide cockpit information to one contractor over the other, while at the same time making sure one contractor’s concepts are also kept separate from the other.”
Fox says the JSC team is “following both contractors first to learn the best [concepts] of both. We then have our own NASA version so we can leverage off the smart things both contractors have done [to put] in our NASA design.”
Mastracchio says both Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman/Boeing “have been really great about coming and talking to the cockpit team and telling us what they are thinking. But we, NASA, have been unable to give them any kind of informal feedback.
“In this period before selection,” Mastracchio continues, “the only way we can communicate with the contractors is if they put forward a series of questions that [are approved by] the NASA project office [and then passed] on to the cockpit team.”
Formal responses to the questions are subsequently compiled by the cockpit team and sent back to the project office for approval, and from there forwarded to “whichever contractor asked the question,” says Mastracchio. “It has been a slow process communicating with them. But once the selection takes place, that will all change.”
All of the cockpit issues involve complex design tradeoffs that will not be fully defined until many iterations are done, Mastracchio says. They include seemingly simple basics that play into much more complex internal layout details that must be balanced, such as who sits where, how windows will be placed and how dockings will be flown using what type of window, television and computer display configurations.
Seating and stowage ties directly into the type of lightweight pressure suits that will be worn during launch and reentry. And the cockpit philosophy on manual piloting and auto system tradeoffs are directly connected to choices about the computer screen design and software display formats for conveying information to the crew.
One critical matter will be the extent of automatic rendezvous and docking. In the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs, those have been piloted operations. 0EV automatic rendezvous and docking is baselined, but with at least full manual intervention capability. How that will manifest itself in 0EV test flights and routine operations is yet to be determined, however, Fox says.
The Russians have always done automated Soyuz rendezvous and docking with manual override, but for the 0EV, how the activity is carried out from a procedures, avionics and software standpoint will be substantially different and improved. That will influence design of cockpit displays, although closed-circuit television images of docking, overlaid with data, like those used by Soyuz crews, are being considered.
Unlike cockpits with paper-based checklists in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs, the 0EV will be as close to 100% paperless as safely as possible. In sharp contrast, every shuttle flight carries hundreds of pounds of checklists and manuals as part of each missions flight-data file.
On the 0EV, most of that will be software-based and accessed through screens on the instrument panel or on hand-held devices carried by 0EV crewmembers positioned along the floor. All of this is being evaluated by the cockpit team.
The Astronaut Office is also drawing on cockpit display experience from the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter. One member of the cockpit team aiding this analysis is newly minted astronaut U.S. Air Force Lt. Cal. James Dutton, Jr., formerly an F-22 test pilot. That effort is just getting underway because it needs information from the winning contractors overall spacecraft system design and malfunction detection and warning system.
Another astronaut is also specifically devoted to coordinating the writing of the 0EV cockpit requirements document that will govern the varied issues involved in the design.
Many astronauts are involved in 0EV evaluations, but a smaller group is devoted to 0EV cockpit definition tasks, including assessment of basic screen and switch arrangements and data display formats. Those displays must be capable of providing information on multiple systems, as well as essential flight data, including emergency information on critical malfunctions or aborts data.
The switch methodology and positioning relates directly to how labor will be divided between a commander and copilot. The term being used for the 0EV pilots is operators because the commander and copilot titles and division of labor are still to be defined, Fox says, and NASA seeks to avoid biasing anything either way toward what the competing contractor teams have proposed.
Initial evaluations are being made on how many of the switches will be traditional hard-wired devices versus new software- driven operations where the interface with a system is through a computer screen. These assessments also involve where traditional switches will be placed, given their function and the arm reach limits of the crew.
Issues include how the rotational hand controller for yaw, pitch and roll will be configured with new buttons and switches for finger-tip interface with the software driving the displays. That is totally different from the shuttle, where the crew communicates with the software via center console-mounted keyboards in the forward cockpit.
Although specific seating arrangements havent been decided, one concept has the commander and copilot seated in hanging couches in front of a small display and control panel, with the other four crewmembers on a six-person ISS flight in couches along the floor. One contractor aiding JS0 in mockup studies, Andrews Space of Seattle, has provided a different mockup configuration where the commander is hanging on a left couch and the copilot to the right (see photo p. 47).
IN THE COCKPIT definition of prototype computer screen display formats and symbology, choices must be made about the display formats, especially for time-critical events, and interfaces for cockpit controls linked to the displays.
All of it also has to be flexible enough for changes to support lunar missions eventually, Fox says, and be easily modified as advancements in computer and display technology evolve over the coming decades.
The shuttle cockpit was never really able to evolve significantly. Although there is much software involved in shuttle flight operations, the cockpit is fundamentally still a mechanical switch/paper-checklist-based design. The shift to glass cockpits in 2000 dramatically improved how information is presented to the crew. But the cockpit today still presents the same type of information as the 30-year-old shuttle cockpit design, with no marked improvement in software exploitation (AW&ST Mar. 6, 2000, p. 54).
Those upgrades were planned, until the Columbia accident forced NASA to set a 2010 end date for the shuttle program and transition to the CEV.
Once the CEV contractor is picked, NASA will begin to merge elements of the contractor demonstration hardware with its simulators and mockups.
A cockpit milestone shortly after selection of the winning contractor will be a systems requirements review planned for about September, Mastracchio says.
Copyright © 2005 Aviation Week, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies.
All rights reserved. 6/29/2006