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International Space Station (ISS)

C2V2 Program Recovery

(Shown: ISS with Visiting Vehicle)

L3 Communications won the $24M Combined Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) contract in 2012. 

It would provide video and audio communications systems for both the ISS and vehicles docking there. Several years later, the program was in real trouble.

Multiple design engineers had left the company, several conflicting design paradigms had been applied simultaneously, and the program was on path to fail.

The assignment was to jump in, reverse engineer and understand what had been done, and salvage the program.

A Really Cool Project!

It all starts with L3 wins a $24M, 13-year Contract

C2V2 Contract for ISS to L3.png

Several years after the 2012 win, the organization was paying a steep price for lack of systems architectural design control at the beginning of program.  ​

  • Too many engineers had been allowed to create independent custom data structures

  • Engineers had each used different database systems and coding languages based on their personal preference

  • Testing difficulties were compounded by the multiple disparate, yet heavily interactive sub-systems

  • A lack of documentation made it difficult to train new team members

The resulting product was excessively complex - and increasing pressures for an already overdue program to deliver were met by key team members giving up and opting to leave the company.

When I jumped in to lead the recovery of the project, I didn't know what C2V2 stood for.  By the time I was done, the team had been rebuilt, we had a documented architecture, the test equipment was fully functional, and the finished product had been delivered to the customer.

Architectural Drawings

While any nearly complete product could be said to "have an architecture", the C2V2 architecture was not well documented, understood, or conceived.  And most of the rationale resided in the heads of engineers that had left!

We had to methodically teach ourselves what existed, how it worked, and document it all to teach a new team.

Formal Design Reviews

The project had been through informal reviews, but not the kind that would be led by a Chief Engineer to evaluate the appropriateness and completeness of the approach.

We had to review the entire database structures, communication pathways, and code implementations and bring them up to standard.

Test Equipment Code Reviews

Some of the program's delays were coming from errant test equipment.  While most of the LabVIEW code functioned, a lack of modularization, reuse, and documentation made it difficult to troubleshoot. 

We had to take hire some top LabVIEW talent to refactor the code, discover the conflicts, and maintain the code.

Build and Retrain a New Team

As happens when a program is allowed to become unnecessarily complex, Engineers became overworked, unable to meet schedule, and eventually jumped ship.

We had to hire and build a new top-talent team and get them up to speed on the technical mess we were untangling in a matter of months.

Get Data Architectures Under Control

The existing situation of using multiple database types and coding languages was too far down the road to start over. 

We had to gain ascendency over each and formalize control over the interfaces, interactions, and outcomes.

Cygnus at ISS with C2V2 first flight.jpg

Results Matter, May 23, 2018

The OA-9 (S.S. J.R. Thompson) Cygnus has arrived at the International Space Station early Thursday morning.  During the approach, Cygnus became the first craft to use the new Common Communications for Visiting Vehicles (C2V2) radio – which will be instrumental for the upcoming commercial crew vehicles.

“When we’re in the proximity of ISS, we have to share telemetry [through the C2V2], but it’s also how the crew can command the vehicle if we ever need an abort,” noted Mr. DeMauro.  “They could command it directly from the ISS, and that signal would get sent directly to Cygnus and we would fly away. So [the C2V2 is] a very important system.”

The C2V2 will eventually eliminate the use of multiple communication systems from the various Visiting Vehicles arriving to the U.S. segment of the Station, unifying all communications through a single system.  This will be especially important when SpaceX’s crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew vehicles perform their uncrewed test flights later this year and begin carrying crew after those initial demonstration flights are complete and validated.

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