This week’s post is inspired by an excellent question I got during the Q & A portion of my talk at the April 2018 LA-LV New Space Mini-conference:
“I can’t see how you could possibly know that your missile guidance system is good, buried out there in silos across the US Northern Tier States.”
To answer, I proceeded to give a brief and generic sketch of how the guidance system is active and continuously flows data allowing analysts to determine if the guidance system is healthy. Many questions can and did arise from this short explanation. How much data? What kind of data? How do you know if you are correct about your assessment? What’s the best way to dig through all this data looking for useful bits? What kinds of tools are needed? And others, none of which we had time for then or now. Realistically, these and many more are all good questions that must be asked and answered by the sustainment organization, not just once, but on a continuous basis.
I raised another question: “What about the parts of the missile that are inert? How can you tell if the solid rocket motor propellant, for instance, will work reliably?” And the answer to that question is a bit more involved. There is no continuous stream of data from the rocket propellant to analysts, at least not automatically like the guidance system. And we know that solid rocket propellant does not remain good forever. Like concrete, it continues to cure over decades until it cracks. And you don’t want to ignite a motor with cracked propellant. Instead of a controlled thrust, you get a huge explosion. Care must be taken to periodically analyze the motors to track their anticipated curing. Perhaps you do this by keeping some motors and propellant in similar conditions, but geographically closer to you testers. This analysis and tracking allows the sustainment organization to schedule the next washout and refill of the motors in a pre-planned manner.
How does your complex system compare to this? What parts are active? What parts are dormant? How do you get adequate data from either?
We are not done. How do you make sure you get needed information from the parts and subsystems that transit your repair processes?