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August 3, 2005

NASA Public Affairs Office
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
(228) 688-3341


A scientist at NASA's Stennis Space Center (SSC) in South Mississippi, Fernando Figueroa, is helping lay groundwork for NASA's future exploration to the outer reaches of our solar system.

Through a project called the Integrated System Health Management (ISHM) Testbeds and Prototypes (ITP), he leads a team that is developing a prototype system including networked "intelligent" sensors (sensors that provide data, measure of the quality of the data, and a measure of their own health) that will support human missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Figueroa works for the Technology Development and Transfer Office, part of the Program Development Directorate at SSC. As principal investigator for the ITP project, he proposed using SSC's rocket engine test facilities as the proving ground to develop and validate ISHM technologies. SSC is where all the Space Shuttle Main Engines have been tested and proven flight-worthy since 1975.

"The engine test stands are perfect test beds to develop and validate ISHM technologies," Figueroa said, "because they are very well-known and well-understood systems that have been in place a long time. They have an established baseline of safe operations. When you introduce new ISHM capability elements into the systems, you can see immediately what is different."

Automated and computerized systems rely on sensors to provide data feedback and keep the system functioning within safe boundaries. Most sensors are expected to operate with a certain amount of anomaly or error. As a system grows in complexity, so does the need for more – and more reliable – sensors. Industries and technology developers embrace the idea of sensor networks to simplify complex systems (like rocket engine testing facilities) and increase the accuracy and reliability of their data delivery.

The principle of ISHM is relatively simple. A collection of intelligent sensors exchanges data, information and knowledge with processes "served" by the sensors. Each sensor operates within the system hierarchy, where all elements are "aware" of each other. The processes are part of a collection of systems (defining a vehicle or platform), controlled with a bird's-eye view of the entire system.

"ISHM is about embedding knowledge and information so that the system can apply human-inspired strategies to monitor, capture anomalies, diagnose sources of anomalies and predict future status. It is also about providing the user with an integrated situational awareness of the system, and of every element in the context of its function," Figueroa wrote in an article for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Putting an ISHM in place at SSC's rocket engine test stands would mean test controllers could do their jobs in a fully immersed environment. They could monitor the condition of every system component and receive advice on anomalies and proper courses of action. It would mean data collected during a facility fuel tank pressurization process could be monitored alongside the performance of a fuel pump inside an engine, taking advantage of physical and operational interactions in real time.

If successful in developing/validating ISHM technologies, SSC would be poised to test future generations of spacecraft. "New exploration systems will have to be ISHM-compatible," Figueroa said.

"The idea is that ISHM will help us move toward having a smaller, more efficient mission support group on the ground," he said. "We can plan better, find issues quicker, run systems better, reduce overall costs dramatically, increase safety significantly – all so our systems become more self-sufficient."

"We need to detect anomalies, detect issues, speed up our reaction time," Figueroa said. "ISHM will do that. It is one of the sets of technical capabilities that are needed to carry out the nation's plan to travel to the Moon and on to Mars."

Figueroa said the project is a team effort involving highly motivated and qualified NASA and contractor engineers at SSC and six other NASA Centers; as well as Rowan University (Glassboro, N.J.), and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (Carbondale, Ill.).

News releases provided by NASA's Stennis Space Center are available at http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/news/index.html For more information, call the NASA Public Affairs Office at Stennis at 1-800-237-1821 or (228) 688-3341.

Related Multimedia:
+ http://www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/news/newsreleases/2005/STS-05-037-cptn1.html


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