Technology Transfer Challenges: A Case Study of User-Centered Design in NASA's Systems Engineering Culture 2009-01-2404
The Upper Stage (US) section of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Ares I rocket will require internal access platforms for maintenance tasks performed by humans inside the vehicle. Tasks will occur during expensive critical path operations at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) including vehicle stacking and launch preparation activities. Platforms must be translated through a small human access hatch, installed in an enclosed worksite environment, support the weight of ground operators and be removed before flight - and their design must minimize additional vehicle mass at attachment points. This paper describes the application of a user-centered conceptual design process and the unique challenges encountered within NASA's systems engineering culture focused on requirements and “heritage hardware”. The NASA design team at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) initiated the user-centered design process by studying heritage internal access kits and proposing new design concepts during brainstorming sessions. Simultaneously, they partnered with the Technology Transfer/Innovative Partnerships Program to research inflatable structures and dynamic scaffolding solutions that could enable ground operator access. While this creative, technology-oriented exploration was encouraged by upper management, some design stakeholders consistently opposed ideas utilizing novel, untested equipment. Subsequent collaboration with an engineering consulting firm improved the technical credibility of several options, however, there was continued resistance from team members focused on meeting system requirements with pre-certified hardware. After a six-month idea-generating phase, an intensive six-week effort produced viable design concepts that justified additional vehicle mass while optimizing the human factors of platform installation and use. Although these selected final concepts closely resemble heritage internal access platforms, challenges from the application of the user-centered process provided valuable lessons for improving future collaborative conceptual design efforts.