Risk Assessment & Management for Space Flight

Course length:

3 Days



Course dates

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This three-day course is for those who need to understand the realities of risk-taking in space projects that face tight schedule and budget constraints. Informed risk management is now a vital part of mission design and tradeoff analysis. Project personnel must anticipate the risk drivers and mitigate them in order to support the hard choices to meet cost and schedule goals without compromising mission objectives.

The fundamentals of risk assessment and decision making in the face of uncertainty will be covered, including technical schedule, cost risk, and programmatic risk. Tools and techniques, including available PC software for risk assessment will be covered. Risk issues covered include: mission design; performance and test margins; parts, materials, and component choices; tradeoffs in weight, Ps, life, redundancy. Practical examples and lessons learned. The final day will be spent on installing and applying risk management methods.

NASA risk management policy documents and resources are reviewed with example applications. Lessons learned from both commercial and NASA projects are discussed.

What You Will Learn:

  • Fundamentals of risk management for space projects.
  • Tools and techniques to plan, mitigate, and trace risks from the early phase of system engineering to final in-orbit performance.
  • Practical choices for parts, material, components and how these relate to risk.
  • Software development risk and ways to mitigate it.
  • What others are doing to cope with risk factors, from single-satellite missions to full constellations.
  • Spacecraft testing options and what they mean in terms of risk.
  • NASA approaches to risk management.
  • Lessons learned.
  • How to apply risk management plans and assessment criteria.

Course Outline:

  1. Introduction. Definitions, background, and objectives of this course.
  2. Risk Assessment Concepts. Qualitative, quantitative definitions. Risk Components: Technical, Schedule, Cost, programmatic, political. Measures of risk. System Engineering Management Guide definition of risk factors.
  3. Risk Identification. Recognize symptoms. Unrealistic specifications and margins in design and test the role of reliability analyses and FMEA (failure modes and effects analyses). Fault trees. Insurance issues: how underwriters evaluate risk in setting premium rates. Cost and weight reduction and its effect on risk. Examples.
  4. Risk Analysis Techniques. NASA methods, NMI 7120.4, requirements and intent DOD 4245.7 templates, Analytic hierarchy process.
  5. Information Gathering. Expert interviews. Structured questionnaires. Industry alerts. Lessons learned from other projects.
  6. Known Technical Risks. Redundancy calculations. Test margins. Parts, materials, and component selection. In-orbit hazards: Radiation, Single-event Effects, S/C charging, In-orbit debris. Launch-related risk issues. Software risks and how to handle them. Make vs buy.
  7. Risk Analysis. Risk modeling. PC tools for risk simulations: Crystal Ball, Prima Vera Monte Carlo.
  8. Risk Mitigation. Trading-off performance, redundancy, probability for survival, weight, and life. Determination of cost and schedule reserve using statistical tools available from PERT and Monte-Carlo simulations. Back-off positions. Parallel paths. Examples from commercial and government programs.
  9. New Approaches in Risk Management. The role of testing. Optimizing test programs for more bang-for-the-buck. New attitudes in the industry regarding short-cuts. What other satellite programs are doing.
  10. Applications of Theory to Shared Experiences. Risk management as practiced at NASA. What’s been done. Future needs.
  11. Shared Experiences Learned from Flight Projects. Case studies from Landsat, Hubble Space Telescope and other projects.
  12. The Changing Nature of Risk Assessment. Phase A: Preliminary Analysis, Phase B: Definition, Phase C/D: Design and Development. Phase E: Operations.
  13. Available NASA Resource. On Orbit Anomaly Reporting. Resource Analysis Office. NASA Lessons Learned Database.
  14. Application of Theory to Shared Experiences. Wrap up of lessons learned based on the project experiences. Recommendations for space project risk management.
  15. Installing and Applying Risk Management Methods. Developing risk management plans and assessment criteria, establishing risk baselines, establishing mitigation actions and contingency planning, monitoring and reporting risks.


Jack Shaw has 25 years experience in program and project management including 15 years of implementing and instructing risk management for NASA, DoD, Federal Agencies, and commercial programs. He holds certifications as a PMI Project Management Professional (PMP) and a process improvement Six Sigma Black Belt. He is currently a Director of Mission Assurance for a major aerospace and defense firm where he is the lead for the company’s Risk and Opportunity Management Community of Practice. His background includes serving as NASA’s Continuous Risk Management project manager and lead instructor and also as a manager of IT process engineering, systems quality and reliability, and space flight electronics engineering.




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