Rocket software hailed as small biz success

NASA

NASA designated a paperless procedure program used in launch preparation for the Atlas V rocket as a model success for its Small Business Innovative Research projects.

Software called the Electronic Portable Information Collection System (EPIC) became the first paperless system used to help launch a rocket into space when it supported the May and July launchings of the Atlas V.

The software is on a portable computer tablet, which is linked to a central server containing the Atlas Oracle database. During lengthy prelaunch preparations, the software records and maintains hundreds of mission-critical procedures that must be completed prior to final mission approval.

By replacing a bulky stack of checklists in paper form, the computerized version allows inspectors to complete preflight inspections in a more efficient manner, while providing a near-real time update to the mission database.

"This is an example of the power of the computer over paper," said Sentel Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer James Garrett. "It's a great timesaver, a great labor saver and results in tremendous efficiency."

Sentel developed the software as a joint venture with NASA under the agency's small business innovative research program, which tries to develop commercial technology.

For use during the launchings, Sentel licensed the program to Computer Sciences Corporation, which handled the software's integration. The Atlas V, built by Lockheed Martin, is the first rocket in the U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

EPIC is also used to complete post-launch closeout procedures, an arduous task that could take up to 45 days to complete. With the new software, these procedures can now be finished in only three days.

The software eliminates the need for individual, written checkoff permission during the inspection. With the computer tablets, multiple inspectors can work at the same time with a simultaneous viewing of the procedures, with each entry being updated in near real-time.

"Using EPIC saves time for the technicians, engineers and quality control staff who used to have to ink stamp and verify each completed step on a master paper copy before they could continue," said Lynn Simms, EPIC project manager for Sentel. "EPIC gives an automatic summary report so they can see immediately what has been completed."

Chuck Griffin, manager for the small business innovative research program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, praised Sentel's effort as a success story.

"Small business is really the backbone for a lot of the research and development that takes place in the [United States]. We rely heavily on the small businesses out there to do research for NASA," Griffin said.

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