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NASA GETS SHUTTLE-UPGRADE REPORT; MORE INPUT ON MODIFICATIONS RECOMMENDED.

Byline: Jim Skeen Daily News Staff Writer

NASA should solicit more ideas for major space shuttle modifications, including additional efforts to protect the orbiters from meteoroids and space debris, the National Research Council says.

The report, ``Upgrading the Space Shuttle,'' concluded that the space agency was on track with its shuttle upgrade efforts, but made 25 recommendations to improve how it selects and implements major upgrades.

The recommendations are merely ``tweaks'' to the process, said Bill Readdy, a former astronaut who now is director of NASA's space shuttle program.

``Overall, we have a sound process,'' Readdy said. ``We're pleased to hear that from them. It's like an A from them.''

Among the recommendations are that NASA seek more ideas from industry for potential design changes to the shuttle and provide more incentives to contractors for proposing and funding modifications.

NASA should look at early compatibility studies for those modifications, limit changes to software and look at what trade-offs in performance those modifications would bring.

``To ensure that NASA can select the best upgrades for the shuttle program, there must be a pool of high-quality potential improvements,'' the report said. ``The Space Shuttle Program Development Office should not consider proposed upgrades as stand-alone proposals, but where appropriate, should look for ways to combine upgrades (or features of upgrades) to effectively meet future requirements.''

The National Research Council is a private, nonprofit institution that provides advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter.

The NRC committee that wrote the report included representatives from aerospace companies, academia and consultants. Among the members was Richard Weiss of Palmdale, who formerly served as director of what is called the Air Force Research Laboratory's Propulsion Directorate, commonly known as the rocket lab, at Edwards Air Force Base.

NASA officials said the agency has involved and will continue to involve industry in the process of identifying potential upgrades. The agency has conducted five forums with industry for that purpose.

The report said NASA needs to go further in its planned modifications in 1999 and 2000 to protect radiators and the leading edge of the wings from meteoroids and orbital debris.

``Considering the predicted high level of risk from this hazard even after these modifications are made, the space shuttle upgrades program should solicit additional upgrade proposals for protecting the shuttle from meteoroids and orbital debris,'' the report said.

The Clinton administration and Congress must decide by the end of 2000 whether to continue using the shuttles indefinitely or develop a new spacecraft to replace the shuttle by 2012.

``My point of view is that the shuttle is our workhorse to build and operate and maintain the International Space Station until the year 2020 or so,'' Readdy said. ``We need to go ahead and get on with the upgrades.''

Boeing, whose Reusable Space Systems Division modifies the shuttle fleet in Palmdale, is advocating the continued use of the orbiter fleet with major modifications to lower costs and enhance performance.

NASA is earmarking about $100 million annually for minor modifications to the shuttle fleet and studying large-scale changes that might be needed in the future. NASA plans call for prioritizing modifications based on their ability to improve safety first, then by their ability to provide support for the International Space Station.

The next priority is for modifications that replace outdated systems.

In prioritizing upgrades, NASA uses the quantitative risk assessment system (QRAS), a software tool to assess the risks for upgrades on the shuttle's safety. That software needs to be improved, the report said.

``NASA should continue to increase the scope and capability of the QRAS system so that it provides better models of failures caused by human error, combination of risks, abort modes, on-orbit hazards, re-entry and landing hazards, and software problems,'' the report said. ``Until these improvements are made, the Space Shuttle Program Development Office should be very cautious in using QRAS to aid in prioritizing upgrades.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 18, 1999
Words:652
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