Travel Grant to Assess the Application of the USAF 8-Step Problem Solving Method for Configuration Management in Safety-Critical Software

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Computing Science


Configuration management ensures that requirements and constraints, identified in previous stages of software development, are preserved through subsequent modifications. Within this general description there are a range of more specific concerns - for example, one aspect of configuration management focuses on the maintenance of well defined interfaces between system components. More broadly, configuration management consists of processes that are intended to ensure the consistency of a product with both functional and non-functional requirements throughout the development and operational lifecycle. The short travel grant will build on three collaborations:1. The proposer has worked with Iya Whitely (SEA Ltd/European Space Agency) to identify configuration management problems in ESA's long duration missions. This involved the use of previous mishaps, including the failure of the International Space Station's Urine Reprocessing Unit, to anticipate future configuration management problems. 2. The proposer with Jackie Kaiser (Space Command) applied the USAF 8-Step Problem Solving Method to a general class of configuration management problems including the NOAA N-Prime Satellite handling failure. 3. The proposer has worked with Michael Holloway at NASA Langley for more than a decade. He held a NASA fellowship (2002) and a NASA Floyd Thompson grant brought Michael Holloway to Glasgow (2005). Our joint work has focussed on critical software systems engineering in aerospace applications but never before on Configuration Management.The innovative aim of this travel proposal is to support configuration management for complex safety-critical, software systems. This might seem to be a trivial trivial issue; however, the general problems can be illustrated by the SOHO observatory. Marconi/MATRA developed the satellite and had a mission simulator. NASA ran the ground control and used a second simulator. ESA coordinated development and maintained a third. None of the simulators ran the version of the software installed on the satellite. We will apply the USAF 8-Step Method to the specific software configuration management problems that affected the SOHO mission. The organisational and technical complexity of this project provides a significant challenge. The 8 Step Problem Solving Model is a standard process based on Boyd's OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) Loop: 1. Clarify and Validate the Problem 2. Break Down the Problem and Identify Performance Gaps; 3. Set Improvement Target 4. Determine Causes and Contributory Factors; 5. Develop Countermeasures; 6. See Countermeasures Through 7. Confirm Results and Process 8. Standardize Successful Processes; This 8-Step process supports complex systems engineering across the USAF. It has never been used to identify causes and recommendations for configuration management problems in complex software applications. A number of significant problems remain in refining these high-level activities into the detailed configuration management processes that might support complex software engineering tasks in space missions; this refinement will be the focus of the travel grant. The proposer will then use the travel grant to visit USAF Space Command and the NASA Langley team to validate our findings. The outcome from these visits will be presented in a joint paper at the 2011 Annual Conference of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety and at the International Systems Safety Conference. A final visit will be made to UK representatives within the European Space Agency programme to disseminate our work and develop proposals for future research

Planned Impact

Commercial and Private Sector: The leading position of UK companies, including Praxis, QinetiQ etc, in reliability engineering is supported by strong relationships with UK academia. These links are illustrated by the proposer's work with BAe following the loss of the NASA Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) mission. This proposal will also build on relationships between the proposer and SMEs. For example, Professor Johnson helped apply the TRIZ problem solving technique to software development problems in the European Space Agency long duration space missions with SEA Ltd, an SME based in Bath. SEA is one of many UK companies that are leading what the Government has described as 'renaissance of interest in UK space systems'. It can, therefore, be argued that there are clear routes for future exploitation of this work, for example in the comparison of SEA's TRIZ approach to the 8-Step USAF method in the proposal. Policy Makers and Government: The UK's strong position in space systems engineering is under threat from China and India, as well as our ESA partners. The Government recognised the need to support the UK space industry in the 2009 Innovation and Growth Team Study on Space (IGT). This review has identified space-related, software engineering as a key enabling technology. The industry funded 'Case for Space' (2009) also argues that policy makers must invest in underlying academic research for advanced space software. The UK civil space budget is worth around 180m in direct contracts but creates around 3bn for the UK economy overall. There are also strategic and military concerns for UK policymakers given that all integrated communications systems rely on satellite technologies. The Wider Public: There is considerable public interest in many aspects of this travel proposal. Media interest is fuelled each time the operation of the International Space Station has been interrupted by software failures. Similarly, ESA plans for human space flight has sparked detailed interest in the media about processes to 'up-grade' software components from the existing (non-human rated) Automated Transfer Vehicle to a level where it is considered safe enough to carry astronauts. The acceptance of the ARES programme's preliminary design review and the successful launch of the IX prototype (28.10.09) also sparked public interest, for example in parallels to the early stages of the Apollo missions. Behind the media hype that surrounds the ESA and NASA projects, there is a pressing need to inspire younger generations in the UK with the opportunities provided by science and engineering. The proposer has worked with a wide range of local schools to develop teaching materials based on his previous work with NASA and ESA. Most of this work has focused on explaining to Primary School children (P6-P7) the reasons why some space missions do not always succeed - in contrast to the image presented in science fiction films. His work in promoting the public understanding of space software engineering was recognised when he was asked by NASA to present a public colloquium on this topic at the US Air and Space Museum in Virginia. The web site to be developed as part of this project would contain both a technical section and a more general area of materials for use by schools - based on this existing work, explaining the links between software and space mission success. Generic and Longer Term Impact: By examining the problems faced by space missions and by developing novel solutions, we may identify techniques that can be applied to other industries. For instance, the proposer helped to draft part of the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) safety research strategy that also identified configuration management as a critical concern for the future of the aviation industry.


10 25 50