DMC and NASA's Journey to the Stars

DMC and NASA's Journey to the Stars

DMC is honored to have been awarded the opportunity to build NASA’s test system for the Space Launch System’s (SLS) Booster Obsolescence Life Extension (BOLE) program. SLS is NASA’s next-generation spacecraft enabling humanity’s journey to the Moon and Mars. SLS vehicles will rise from the launchpad powered by thrust from dual boosters supplied by BOLE.

Northrop Grumman (NG), a large-scale defense contractor working with NASA, selected DMC to create the automated electrical production test equipment that will help make sure each booster is qualified for respective Artemis missions. DMC’s previous successes in developing large-scale rocket testing systems for Northrop Grumman played a significant role in giving NG the confidence to choose DMC for this critical test asset, Jesse Batsche, Senior Director of Test & Measurement, noted.

“DMC has successfully developed projects for Northrop Grumman, and the BOLE test system is the next iteration based on that success,” Chris Cilino, Senior Project Engineer on the project, LabVIEW Champion, and Certified LabVIEW Architect, said. “We were honored to be selected by Northrop Grumman because of our design, passion, and completeness of the solution.”

Zak Pearson, a Project Engineer working on the project, agrees that being awarded the contract was based on DMC’s good reputation, earned trust, and demonstrable capabilities expressed through our prior projects with Northrop Grumman.

“DMC’s BOLE test system leverages our robust and capable rocket system aerospace defense testing technologies – including both software and hardware design and infrastructure that we have built up through many prior projects and previous Northrop programs,” Jesse said. “Applying that historical work and experience allows us to build upon an elevated pedestal as we design the NASA BOLE test equipment. And while we’re leveraging a strong platform starting point, we are certainly extending and extrapolating our designs in new and unique ways to meet the demanding requirements of the BOLE EPSE project, where this evolution and customization is an essential aspect of designing specialized, top tier test and quality systems.”

DMC is comprised of Certified TestStand Architects (CTAs), Certified LabVIEW Architects (CLAs), Certified LabVIEW Developers (CLDs), and a LabVIEW Champion. We hold our engineers to high standards at DMC, as evidenced by these certifications.

“This project has very high and rigorous standards for overall quality, compliance, traceability, and documentation,” Jesse said. “This is part and parcel to working on a mission-critical NASA booster system that needs to be flawless and operate for many years, or even many decades to come. DMC is well positioned to apply and, where appropriate, elevate all our existing internal processes, tooling, and operating procedures to execute this project in the manner our customer expects.”

When asked why Northrop Grumman chose DMC, Jamie Sorensen, a Project Management Specialist at DMC, said: “We were very responsive and excited to collaborate to create the best system for them. We weren’t trying to sell them on a particular product or sell them on a certain way. We were just trying to figure out what made sense for what they wanted. I think they felt we were very honest with them but we also liked to have fun – just very good personalities. They also liked that our engineers were very closely involved in everything from the design to the sales process. Most companies normally have a salesperson pitch the final product, and we had all of our engineers go through their designs and be able to speak to it at a very technical level.”

Our ability to analyze and synthesize requirements into a solid design played a significant role in DMC’s selection, according to Chris.

“DMC instilled confidence in the BOLE team because we very carefully listened to and tracked everything that they asked for during our conversations. We showed them how our designs would meet both their technical needs and business needs. This is DMC’s standard process for medium to large-scale projects,” Chris said. “We excel in what I call A.R.T.ful engineering: ART - accountability, reliability, traceability. When we say accountability, we mean can answer 'why we did what we did.' By reliability, we mean we create high-quality products that are both technically correct and meet a user’s needs. Said another way, reliability means you can trust us to provide a valuable solution. By traceability, we use project management and development processes that clearly display the evolution of designs and decisions. These three aspects are important for corporations like Northrop Grumman who work on mission-critical projects."

DMC’s track record developing rocket testing (and other advanced aerospace/defense systems) demonstrates that we have a reliable approach to mission-critical projects. Part of our approach includes selecting the right hardware and software platforms and tooling to meet requirements. In the BOLE solution, DMC selected the NI platform as well as other products from vendors such as Pickering. 

“The NI platform is open, and not only works with other hardware like Pickering switches, but also other software such as Python, .NET, C Sharp, and C++,” Chris said. “While NI’s platform is very capable, its ability to work with other technologies provides DMC flexibility to pick the right tools for each part of the project. That’s where DMC’s tagline of “Smart People. Expert Solutions.” comes into play. When we say the word expert, we mean we can select and/or create the right tool for the job that gives the client what they need, when they need it, and at an appropriate price.” 

We have expertise in developing software that composes diverse hardware into systems that meet many common needs, according to Chris.

“We enable our customers to create sequences of actions to effectively test their devices while monitoring the full test system, including an ongoing log of events and an ongoing log of collected data," Chris said. "This comprehensive history helps ensure the integrity of test results.”

After all the data is gathered, we synthesize and nicely summarize the results so that our clients can quickly determine what passed, what failed, and if the device under test met their needs. We’ve developed numerous internal technologies over many projects that we will utilize on the BOLE tester, accelerating the time to the solution’s delivery with a high-quality result.

“We have significant experience creating these types of systems yielding a large body of code that, with minor modifications, will meet the customers’ needs. A key element of DMC’s value proposition to a customer is that we can execute complex tasks with high ROI because we’re building on a previously proven code base," Chris said. "In addition to our own internal tools and technologies, we utilize commercial off-the-shelf technologies (COTS) – like the National Instruments hardware and software platform, further accelerating the solution’s delivery.”

DMC has selected NI LabVIEW for the BOLE project to facilitate these efficient and accelerated delivery and code reuse goals. 

“LabVIEW’s inherent parallelism allows us to quickly create systems that behave like the world. LabVIEW is a graphical, data-flow driven programming language, and is therefore inherently parallel. I can easily write code that executes in parallel, and, it turns out, that’s how the world behaves,” Chris said. “There are many activities occurring at the same time in any test system. For example, most test systems require applying stimuli, measuring responses, and making decisions all in parallel. This parallel activity in other languages is possible but requires additional programming overhead. LabVIEW enables us to write concurrently executing code without additional overhead. LabVIEW’s inherent parallel processing, plus its tight integration with the NI hardware, lets DMC quickly, efficiently, and, therefore, with high value, give our clients what they need.”

In addition to the core system functionality, DMC also places high emphasis on user experience, operational maintainability, and solid/reliable ongoing support as essential ingredients to a complete project lifecycle, according to Zak.

“Focusing on the human aspect of the system, specifically user stories for how individual people would interact with the system, really helps DMC center our own efforts on making people’s lives better and easier and helping them be more effective in their jobs, Zak said. "That’s from both the software and hardware sides. We have really good approaches on the hardware side to save our customers a ton of time and really reduce the manual effort of a lot of the test process.”

DMC cares about the ‘why?,’ and why starts with the specific people using our solution, according to Chris. 

“We pride ourselves on identifying all the stakeholders of a project and then making sure that the solution meets each stakeholder’s needs. This process starts with a persona analysis,” Chris said. “Once we know WHO our solution will serve, we then work with our clients to define WHAT the solution should do, usually expressed in requirements statements. DMC has developed processes and tooling to capture every requirement (aka the “WHAT”). Our engineers translate requirements into designs (aka the “HOW”) and traceably correlate specific designs to each requirement. Designs are broken down into development tasks and traceably correlated back to requirements. Tests are collaboratively developed and traceably correlated back to requirements. At each stage, we traceably correlate our work to requirements that ultimately enable people’s workflows."

Chris calls this the chain of custody.

"This chain of custody is part of accountability, reliability, and traceability (A.R.T.-ful enginnering) and instills confidence in clients that we can and will meet their needs, Chris said. "It all boils down to trust. The Northrop Grumman team presented us with a large set of requirements, and we’re telling them we can create a solution that meets their needs. We’ve earned their trust because of the systems we’ve put in place, the quality of our designs, and the quality of our people. Our systems enable us to tackle these complex, mission-critical applications.”

This project represents an exciting challenge for the DMC team.

“I am very excited. I think this is one of the coolest projects I’ve gotten to be involved in. It’s always been a dream to work on something related to the space industry, specifically, human space flight. Being a part of that mission, being a part of NASA, and helping to support that is very cool. Having the opportunity to be, however small the contribution, a part of the process to getting humans back to the Moon and to Mars is cool to be involved with,” Zak said. “Our contribution is really cool because it’s at this system level; we are dealing with the whole booster avionics system, so we can say we helped test the whole thing. We will know how the whole thing works together, and we are kind of given the final go or no go for that rocket. I think it’s a cool way to contribute, and I am thrilled we get the opportunity to do so.”

The BOLE opportunity fulfills many DMCers dreams to work on impactful projects related to aerospace and defense.

“My participation in the BOLE project fulfills a lifelong dream to somehow, someway, be involved in the space program. Space has always inspired me,” Chris said. “Now, with DMC, I get the chance to fulfill that lifelong dream. This project is impactful. There is personal fulfillment for me at DMC.”

The project provides personal fulfillment and growth to DMCers and DMC as a whole. 

“I’m excited to continue growing in this sector. This is one of the largest projects we have done,” Jamie said. “This is also a giant step for us in terms of expanding our aerospace and defense capabilities, and I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Everybody on the team is more excited about this project than almost any other that we have had the chance to work on, according to Jesse.

“It’s very cool just to be able to do our part for this grand engineering challenge — supporting the SLS program and Artemis missions and verifying the boosters that are going to bring both crew and cargo up to the Moon and Mars,” Jesse said. “It’s definitely going to be a marquee project that demonstrates the type of engineering contribution DMC is able to make to our customers and to the world.”

Learn more about DMC’s Industries Served and contact us today for your next project.


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