Project Balto

If you’ve seen the recent movie The Martian, then this challenge might seem a bit familiar! There was a problem NASA was trying to solve around testing a rocket, and I was bursting to email my solution to the author!
I ended up talking with a few people, and they came up with different angles on my solution. Wow.
In the end, I ran the scenario below as an exercise with my test team in our monthly meeting – they came with some different approaches, and in the debriefing they had some very useful ideas to feedback into their daily work.
Now it’s your turn – how do you think you’ll do? If you can, do talk it over with other testers you know. Even better, please submit your answers to the team ‘at’ testingcircus.com – I’m going to do a follow-up in a couple of months, and I’d really like to use as many ideas from others as I can – this is your opportunity for a mention! Let’s Project Balto.

 

Project-Balto-001Yesterday at 2:59am, we secretly landed the first men back on the Moon since 1972. Commander Alice Kramden and Lieutenant George Herbert successfully landed their lander at Maginus Crater, whilst their automated service module remained in orbit awaiting their return.
During their stay on the Moon, they did an excursion with their lunar rover and collected some rock samples, looking for traces of He3, which we hope to use to power future fusion reactors, as well as set up a science station near the lunar module.

Project-Balto-003
Their mission completed, they boarded the lunar module for the return visit – which is where things started to go wrong. “There was a crash and then a zoom, as we tried to take off from the Moon”. The lunar modules main engine refused to fire, and the crew could see they were venting from their craft. Later inspection from the outside of their craft showed that a key valve had blown in the propellant fuel line, and the module has vented its fuel for takeoff, stranding it on the Moon.

Project-Balto-005
The good news is the oxygen tanks were not affected, and the crew has food and air to last for 30 days. Potentially 31 if everything goes favourably and exertion and trips outside are kept to an absolute minimum.

Project-Balto-007
The bad news is we have no rescue or resupply rocket ready. Our expectations of such scenarios was that any incident would be outright fatal.

Project Balto

Project-Balto-009
Project Balto is our planned resupply lifeline for the two astronauts stranded on the Moon. It’s named after the famous Alaskan husky who ran supplies of medicine during a diphtheria epidemia.

Project-Balto-011
We’re used to running regular supply rockets up to the International Space Station every 3 months, but sadly we used our the other month, and it’s replacement isn’t constructed yet. That rocket uses a 2-stage rocket which gets into low Earth orbit. But to get to the Moon, it needs additional power, so we’re adding an additional rocket stage to the base – similar to the one we used in our manned lunar rocket.

Stage 1 – Liftoff stageProject-Balto-013

This is the stage that is used at take-off, and usually lifts a manned rocket into high Earth orbit. We’ve used these for 6 previous launches. It’s reusable, but requires a huge service between uses – hence it has parachutes and beacons to help us retrieve and reuse it.
Key features
—Recovery parachute
—Recovery beacon
—Propellant tanks
—Guidance fins
—Re-entry shields
—64 rocket engines
—Separation charges (between stages)
—Launch cameras

Stage 2 – Lunar Orbital insertion

Project-Balto-015Once in orbit, this stage will take the vehicle out of Earth orbit and into an orbit around the Moon. This design has been used over 50 times to resupply the International Space Station, with low levels of failure. Like Stage 1, when used to supply the International Space Station, it is reusable.
Key features
—Recovery parachute
—Recovery beacon
—Propellant tanks
—Steering rockets
—Re-entry shields
—18 rocket engines
—Separation charges
—Black box monitor

Stage 3 – Cargo packageProject-Balto-017Once in orbit, this section will attempt to land nearby the lunar lander, where the astronauts can use their lunar rover to collect supplies.
Key features
—Retro rockets
—Recovery beacon
—Propellant tanks
—Steering fins
—5 rocket engines
—Guidance computer & autopilot
—Pressurized cabin
—Black box monitor
—Radio
—Webcam

Stage suppliers
Each rocket stage is supplied by a different supplier,
—STAGE 1 – Zeus Inc
—STAGE 2 – Hera Ltd
—STAGE 3 – Hermes Industrial

And each supplier is about 2 days by freight train away,Project-Balto-019
Our first pass at working out a timeline for this was,

Project-Balto-T1

Stage assembly
Each stage is assembled on a production line.

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Stage testing
The stage is then moved to a test facility where it’s tested component by component.

Project-Balto-022
Freight train
Each stage is then taken by freight train from the supplier to our launch facility.

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Rocket integration
The stages of the rocket are then assembled.

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Rocket testing
The assembled rocket is then tested to confirm the stages are working together as expected.

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Revising timeline
With the typical time to do this, the astronauts will all be dead by the time we’re ready. So we’re going to work around the clock, which gives us the following revised schedule,

Project-Balto-T2
With the typical time to do this, the astronauts will all be dead by the time we’re ready. So we’re going to work around the clock, which gives us the following revised schedule,
Project-Balto-T3

In order to meet this deadline, we can’t afford the dedicated test phases, although they increase the chances of a successful launch, as they do so, if we do delay, the crew will be dead for certain.

What can you do to reduce the chance of this happening? Can you solve this by 25th January 2016?

Project-Balto-032

Editor’s Note: We will select/publish top 3 solutions to the above problem. Send your entries to team @ testingcircus.com with the subject ‘Project Balto’. What about some testing books as prizes?

*** This article originally appeared in our November 2015 monthly edition.

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Mike Talks

Although not originally a New Zealander, Mike Talks feels that Wellington is one of the most exciting places in the world to be working in software testing right now. He did audition as an extra in the future Hobbit movie, but was told at 6' 2" he was too tall to be a Hobbit ... even if he stooped. He is the author of the Leanpub book on testing "The Software Minefield".