Essay about Risk Management Techniques for Satellite Programs
Either way, this helps to burn down the consequence of only have a sole dedicated relay through redundancy. Another aspect a program manager should consider when assessing risk with ground relays points to the operations crews that run them. An example of a human error causing a space disaster is showcased in the 2009 collision of an Iridium Communications satellite and a defunct Russian communications satellite.
With the Russian satellite out of commission, it rested on the Iridium satellite to maneuver in the correct direction with the correct velocity to avoid the collision. Instead, a calculation error occurred on the ground with the operations crews and the incorrect burn parameters were sent to the satellite for execution. The satellite maneuvered using the incorrect parameters, and it was insufficient to avoid the Russian satellite. The satellites collided at 26,000 miles per hour, creating a debris field of over 2,000 fragments. To this day, the debris field continues to threaten low-Earth orbit assets, to include the International Space Station.
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When discussing risk pertaining to operations crews, it bleeds into a bit of the human resources side of things as well, but it is not a forgone conclusion that in space operations, human errors have put satellites at risk. This ranges from the level of training provided to the crews, to operations experience, to how much rest they have. There are a couple of approaches to managing this risk, however. One approach could be to introduce some level of automation. That is, if there are processes that can be turned into a machine process vice having a human-in-the-loop, that almost completely avoids the risk of human error. What this does introduce, however, is the chance of a machine error.
Computers break, fail, shutdown, and freeze. That is what systems at the ground stations are, essentially, are high-powered computers that help command and control satellites. If a program manager does a tradeoff analysis and deems the consequence and likelihood of risk of the computer error is lower than the consequence and likelihood of human error occurring, then that could be a risk mitigation/avoidance step the PM could take (note: it is both risk avoidance and risk mitigation, as it is avoiding a human error risk, but also mitigating a human-error risk because it is done by a computer that doesn’t require rest, but still poses the potential for an error, just a computer error).
If risk avoidance through automation is not an option, then a risk mitigation can be performed a number of other ways with the operations crews. One of these is hiring experienced space operations crew members that understand how to operate complex systems to command and control satellite systems, instead of having more novice, less-experienced operators. The drawback to this risk mitigation approach is that there is a financial tradeoff that has to be taken into account. In order to bring in more experienced crews, a company (or the government) will usually have to pay the operators more than they would a less-experienced crew member.
Crew experience does lessen the likelihood of a satellite error event occurring. If it is decided not to bring in more experienced crews, a company (or the government) assumes the risk of more potential for errors, but it can hire more crew members and have back-fills when operators get sick, take vacation, etc. Another thing a program manager can do to mitigate risk from human error is to ensure that adequate training is provided to operators.
This training not only includes the initial training received upon being hired, but regular reoccurring training. The reoccurring training should include training operators on new aspects of the system or system upgrades that impact how they do their job. If a new system aspect is introduced, and an operations crew member is not training on it (or trained inadequately), the potential for disaster presents itself.
The crew training should also regularly address some of the day-to-day aspects of their jobs that they perform every day. Regularity breeds complacency, and complacency can set the stage for disaster. By ensuring space systems operations crews are regularly re-trained on day-to-day operations procedures and practices, this buys down the likelihood of an error occurring.
Lastly, working with operations crew managers to ensure their crew members get adequate rest will help to mitigate human error risk. Having an operator come in for a night shift that hasn’t rested presents enormous risk to space systems and the associated ground architecture. Should that operator not be rested, a risk avoidance technique that manager should utilize is to call in another operator that is better rested and better prepared to operate the complex systems required to command satellites. By bringing in a fresh operator, the risk of placing a tired, unprepared operator on-console is avoided.
Risk in any satellite program is inescapable and pervasive. One could spend a lifetime discussing risk associated with this very intricate process. However, this paper was intended to address risk management techniques in regards to satellite programs, using both historical, current day, and hypothetical examples. FalconSat-6 discussed pre-launch R&D risks and risk management.
Launch risks and risk transference were described through the use of space insurance. Risk mitigation for ground relay risks and human-error risks were also discussed, citing examples from NASA and the Iridium-Cosmos collision. The examples could go on and on. As streamlined as modern day processes are for the development, launch, and operations of satellites, it is ever important for project managers to pay close attention to risks, and to manage them appropriately to ensure satellite program success throughout the course of the entire lifecycle.