APRIL 22, 2016, PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. – While military technology and space exploration may seem like two very different areas of expertise, there is enough common ground for engineers from Picatinny Arsenal and the nation’s space agency to share best practices and leverage business processes.
Since January, Quality Assurance Engineer Ben Schumeg has been on a four-month special assignment supporting the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Schumeg is employed by the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal.
The quality-assurance engineer said he has enjoyed working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an agency whose work has fascinated him since childhood.
During his assignment, Schumeg has been benchmarking ARDEC processes against those of NASA to gather information, compare lessons-learned, and report on the results to help both organizations increase productivity and efficiency.
“While our mission ‘spaces’ may be different — space exploration and International Space Station versus ARDEC, which traditionally does armaments and weapons systems – the way we get to the solution is pretty similar,” Schumeg explained.
“There is a lot of cross knowledge that can be gained between the two organizations,” he added.
“We want to create something that’s reliable, that works when it’s supposed to or doesn’t work when it’s not supposed to–be it a rocket or a function on a station, or a shell that’s being fired from a weapon, or a fire control system pointing out a location.
Both organizations want that operation to be safe, reliable, supported and functioning as intended.”
In addition to comparing best practices while at NASA, Schumeg performs quality assurance activities for visiting vehicles to the International Space Station.
Visiting vehicles supply cargo to the space station to replenish the astronauts with items like food, repair parts for the station, and science experiments.
Schumeg reviews processes to make sure the commercial providers supplying the station are doing quality work and maintaining a high level of assurance for mission success.
“Ben does the software quality assurance for our visiting vehicle operations and it’s very critical,” said Bill McAllister, NASA computer safety and software assurance branch chief.
While the visiting vehicles are owned by private industry, NASA procures the flight services to the space station, so the agency has insight into the process by contractual agreement.
As the visiting vehicles prepare for flight, Schumeg oversees software changes to provide insight, monitor burn-down on the software tickets, and ensure that the tickets are conforming to their software development processes. Software tickets document issues found or recommended improvements to the software. Burn-down is the process of dispositioning and closing out these tickets prior to flight.
Schumeg also has been involved in CCtCap, which stands for Commercial Crew Transportation Capability, which is a future-looking program to have commercial industry transport astronauts to the space station in addition to cargo.
Because the United States currently has no spacecraft to transport its astronauts, our government pays Russia to take Americans to the space station.
The cost to transport one American astronaut to and from the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft is approximately $90 million, McAllister said. In the future, through the CCtCap program, SpaceX and Boeing will carry anywhere between three to seven astronauts to the space station.
“Software quality assurance for those vehicles have been expanded to include more stringent NASA standards,” McAllister said.
“Ben’s bringing value-added commentary to our reviews of their processes. And those providers are accepting his comments. It’s not an overstatement to say that Ben and ARDEC are making value-added contributions to this nation’s space program.”
NASA and ARDEC are working on an agreement that will allow Schumeg to continue providing part-time software assurance to NASA after his special assignment ends and he returns to Picatinny.
At Picatinny, Schumeg conducts software qualifications for armament systems, which involves testing weapon systems, platforms, and fire-control systems.
“A good business practice is to define what you do. Basically how you get from point A to point B, from the start of the life-cycle of a product to completion or retirement of that product,” he said.
To accomplish this, employees meet with stakeholders to define requirements, create documents that outline those requirements, devise a process for how to modify processes, determine how to implement the processes through coding and design, decide how to test a product, and choose how to assemble and release the final product.
These practices allow missions to be aligned throughout the life-cycle and ensure that all parties involved know their role, what they should do and who they should communicate with.
“It’s my job to ensure that people are following the defined processes to ensure that the product is made in the most efficient and effective way possible,” Schumeg said.
While at NASA, Schumeg has identified some processes that can benefit both organizations and, with approval, has shared them between the organizations.
“For instance, NASA headquarters is going through a review and update of the NASA-STD-8739.8 Software Assurance Standard,” Schumeg said. “I’ve been providing comments and feedback as a third-party reviewer. I hope to provide some of the policies and procedures that ARDEC follows with regard to Software Assurance for NASA to consider during its documentation update.”
Schumeg’s experience at NASA has been buoyed by the fact that he has been fascinated by the agency’s mission since he was a young boy.
“I’ve always had an interest in NASA and the shuttle and space station,” he said.
“I figured this was a great opportunity to continue to learn more about things that I find interesting outside the Department of Defense and armament area.”