SAD#008: Space Mission Analysis & Design
Part 1: Concept Investigation
Space Mission Analysis and Design (SMAD) processes are critical for designing a successful space mission at minimum cost and risk; and are equally crucial for startups planning on designing, deploying, and operating their core project or product.
My focus here is to share the high-level processes I am observing for the concept exploration of our startup.
Space mission Life Cycle
A space mission starts with exploring the initial concept, where the space mission and its components are broadly defined, followed by the design development phase. In this phase, the system components, hardware, and software get developed and tested. The third is Production and deployment. It ends with operation and support, where the day-to-day space system operation, maintenance, and support are performed.
The concept of the operational life cycle is only a high-level overview of designing and analyzing a space mission. The life cycle stages overlap with existing space program development phases unique to the country or agencies we work with (ex., ESA, NASA, JAXA, USA DoD..) Those agencies’ development phases provide a roadmap, process, and audit and review milestones for the mission design life cycle to minimize risk and cost and maximize the success of deployment and operation. They also ensure the mission’s adherence to National or international geopolitical, economic, and technology standards and requirements.
The space program phases start with the mission analysis, followed by a preliminary feasibility analysis, preliminary mission definitions, and a demonstration for validation. Next is design, development, operation and support, and disposal.
Space agencies have also adopted the Technical Readiness Levels (TRL) as milestones for space mission maturity. That starts with TRL1 and ends with TRL 9 with a successful mission operation.
Space mission Concept Investigation
The first part of the concept life-cycle, the mission concept investigation stage, is critical for the initial stages of designing the mission, project, and startup product while ensuring it is true to the objectives. This phase of the cycle spans from the space program mission analysis phase to the early stages of the design definition phase.
Space Mission Definition of Objectives
Identifying the qualitative goals and answering the “why” lead to defining the core of the objectives of the space mission. The objectives and goals should sprout from the mission statement of the space mission.
We can identify three types of objectives.
- The primary objective is the broad goal the startup aims to achieve.
- The secondary objectives are partly defined by the equipment, hardware, and software set on board or within the project. Some secondary objectives are non-technical and aim to satisfy social, political, cultural, national security, and academic purposes.
- The third type of objectives would demand additional resources, technical equipment, and technologies added to the project. Once implemented, the project will be able to meet different demands and gain a larger market share.
Quantitative Estimates – At this stage of the SMAD, we need to select a concept that is true to our objective and carry on to design.
Once the objectives are defined, we identify their initial and broad requirements and constraints that will influence the space mission’s performance and operation. They include but are not limited to functional and operational requirements, cost, schedule, and implementation Constraints. Those, in turn, balance what we intend to achieve against what the mission budget will allow.
Space Mission concept description
Initially, we identify the Broad requirements and constraints to observe and realize the mission objectives. Then, we start identifying alternative mission concepts. Consequently, we will have several concept architectures with their respective cost and performance qualitative values. Each mission concept is developed into its mission architecture with unique design elements, system architectures, and components. The process allows the mission concepts to mature enough to identify their costs and performance values.
Space Mission Evaluation & Selection
With the quantitative cost and performance values identified, we can evaluate the concepts and select the one that satisfies our needs and objectives. Mission and product documentation are drawn for the selected concept and used as a baseline for potential future alternative mission concepts.
As the constraints of the selected mission are based on broad initial conditions, the initial requirements and constraints are examined and updated. The space mission concept investigation cycle is re-run as much as needed to achieve a viable final concept. This selected concept moves forward to the design definition and preliminary design phases.