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Actually, It Is Rocket Science

A visit with Craig Kluever, Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

By LuAnne Roth
Published: - Topics: mission design research space travel NASA spacecraft

Building robustness into mission designs

Topics: flight software flight simulators

The guidance system Kluever worked on for the X-33 shuttle was to have robustness built into its designs for guidance and control systems. Although the existing Shuttle works very well, Kluever says, “it does not have a lot of robustness built in.” If it comes in on a flight path that is too steep, too shallow, or too fast, it has very limited capabilities for altering that flight path and still making the planned approach for landing. “Fortunately the Shuttle hasn’t had any major mechanical failures (like a broken rudder) on the way down. But if failures occurred, it would have limited maneuverability.” Kluever’s contribution to this project will allow a new shuttle’s guidance system to not only maintain the exact amount of energy to reach the landing area, but also to recognize and steer toward the runway. “Robust” describes a new guidance system that is more automated and adaptable, and therefore, a new generation of safer shuttle vehicles – “so that if some major failure occurred—like the rudders didn’t work and it had limited banking ability, or the elevators didn’t work, and it had limited pitching capability—you could recalculate a trajectory that would still take it to a safe landing. That’s what’s meant by robustness.”