Space Operations:

NASA Efforts to Develop and Deploy Advanced Spacecraft Computers

IMTEC-89-17: Published: Mar 31, 1989. Publicly Released: May 1, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) the capabilities of existing National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spacecraft computers; (2) NASA and Department of Defense (DOD) programs to develop advanced, general-purpose, space-qualified computers; and (3) the type of primary onboard computer system NASA planned to use for the space station.

GAO found that: (1) most NASA onboard computers were outdated when the spacecraft were launched because NASA chose them early in the development process to allow sufficient time for integration, modification for the space environment was difficult, NASA used older and less powerful systems, and launch delays further outdated the computers; (2) NASA was monitoring DOD research and development programs to avoid duplication of effort and help meet future space mission needs; (3) NASA began funding its own research in advanced spacecraft computer technologies to incorporate DOD-developed equipment into NASA spacecraft; and (4) although NASA was trying to incorporate newer technology in the space station, the time lag problem would still exist, because the station's primary computer would be 10 years old if the station were launched in 1995.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An expert panel, formed to address the issues, concurred that a major reduction could be made in the time needed to develop spacecraft computers.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, NASA, should consider further strengthening the agency's ongoing activities by establishing an independent expert panel to comprehensively examine the process by which advanced spacecraft computers are developed and deployed, and determine the further steps that could be taken to shorten the process. At the discretion of the Administrator, members of the panel could be gathered from appropriate federal agencies, the scientific community, and private industry.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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