ESA GNC Conference Papers Repository
An Independent Assessment of NASA's GN&C Engineering Discipline: Technical Challenges, Critical Needs, and Future Technological Directions
Currently the United States (US) National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is experiencing some significant changes, particularly in human exploration. Notable among the changes occurring within NASA is the retirement of the space shuttle, the emergence of commercial crew transport to the International Space Station, the development of architectures for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, and a renewed emphasis on technology development. These new changes within the Agency will have impacts on the GN&C discipline. One positive influence is the potential for sizeable near-term investments in technology development and in-space demonstrations. In this paper, NASA Technical Fellow for Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) provides a summary of the present technical challenges, critical needs, and future technological directions for NASAs GN&C engineering discipline. In particular, three key GN&C challenge areas will be discussed in this paper. The first challenge concerns the fact that advanced GN&C capabilities (e.g., the application of robust/optimal or adaptive control) are not being exploited as much as they could be due to perceived risk of implementation. The second challenge addresses the need for meaningful investments in the next generation of GN&C component-level technologies. The third challenge arises from the lack of consistent NASA-wide top-level guidelines for GN&C system Design, Development, Test and Evaluation (DDT&E). Specific steps, many involving the efforts of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) GN&C Technical Discipline Team (TDT), to mitigate these three challenges will be identified and described. A brief overview of the changes occurring within NASA that are driving a renewed emphasis on technology development will be presented as background. This paper will provide a GN&C State-of-the-Discipline (SoD) assessment. The disciplines readiness to support the goals & objectives of each of the four NASA Mission Directorates is evaluated and the technical challenges and barriers currently faced by the discipline are summarized. This paper will also discuss the need for sustained investments to sufficiently mature the several classes of GN&C technologies required to implement NASA crewed exploration and robotic science missions.