Monday, January 25, 2010

KISS and Standards

Several years ago (about 2002?) I was given the assignment of writing a systems engineering document related to spacecraft initilaization for a NASA project. The contract required that we write the document "to a level four specification."  I spent more time than I should have trying to find: a definition of level four (or any level); a level three document to base the new work on, or; anyone who knew what the customer wanted. No luck.

That program still has not flown, but since that time I've done enough research to learn that there is no such definition.  So in 2006, so as to avoid this problem in the future, I initiated a standard development effort on spacecraft initialization and commissioning.  Last week our standards project team in ISO, Technical Committee 20, Subcommittee 14, Working Group two, submitted resolution to ISO (Geneva) on comments to the final Committee Draft.  We should see a new standard (actually three documents) on Spacecraft Initialization and Commissioning published within six to nine months.

This is an example of part of the reason we need a good standards base for the space industry.  Too many engineers, scientists and managers need to get work done for their projects to move along, but they do not have sufficient experience to clearly state what needs to be done.  They are not delegating technical tasks effectively. And no wonder, if it takes over a decade to fly a single space project.

If you are working on a project and you find yourself stymied by the task definition you are assigned, do you look at which standards may exist to help you? Working from a standard basis is the surest way to deliver a credible product.  If there are no standards, does it make sense that writing down the basics of what you did may save you, or a co-worker, some time in the future? And that you can save your customer time and money on future projects!

When (not "if") you find yourself in need on standards development for space systems or services, contact us at the Space Infrastructure Foundation.  You can get me at

Unless otherwise noted, the blog posts are written by Frederick A. Slane, Executive Director of the Space Infrastructure Foundation.

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