Evolution of the Space Shuttle Primary Avionics Software and Avionics for Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicles 2011-01-2575
As a result of recommendation from the Augustine Panel, the direction for Human Space Flight has been altered from the original plan referred to as Constellation. NASA's Human Exploration Framework Team (HEFT) proposes the use of a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (SDLV) and an Orion derived spacecraft (salvaged from Constellation) to support a new flexible direction for space exploration. The SDLV must be developed within an environment of a constrained budget and a preferred fast development schedule. Thus, it has been proposed to utilize existing assets from the Shuttle Program to speed development at a lower cost. These existing assets should not only include structures such as external tanks or solid rockets, but also the Flight Software which has traditionally been a “long pole” in new development efforts.
The avionics and software for the Space Shuttle was primarily developed in the 70's and considered state of the art for that time. As one may argue that the existing avionics and flight software may be too outdated to support the new SDLV effort, this is a fallacy if they can be evolved over time into a “modern avionics” platform. The “gold” of the flight software is the “control loop” algorithms of the vehicle. This is the Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) software algorithms. This software is typically the most expensive to develop, test, and verify. The “control loop” software algorithms could be extracted and evolved to execute on technology compatible with the legacy system embedded within a SLDV avionics platform. It is also possible to package the GNC algorithms into an emulated version of the original computer (via Field Programmable Gate Arrays or FPGAs), thus becoming a “GNC on a Chip” solution.