International Relations: TRISMAC 2018

3-minute read

This summer, about 120 people from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) — and their contactor and assurance research communities — gathered at NASA Kennedy Space Center for the fifth Trilateral Safety and Mission Assurance Conference (TRISMAC).

TRISMAC, a joint effort between the organizations, is a forum to provide information about Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) topics related to past, ongoing and future missions; human and robotic missions; and technology development and operation of space systems. 

“TRISMAC has a very special place in terms of a forum for three agencies to get together and talk very plainly about the advancements in the SMA discipline,” said Johnny Nguyen, chief of the Technical Management Office for SMA at Kennedy and TRISMAC 2018 program committee member representing NASA.

“I think we get to share ideas and to bring home ideas as well,” added Dr. John Evans, the NASA technical chair for this year’s conference from the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance. “It creates a situation where we can get some reflection of what we see as important in the assurance realm from the partners and we can get a feel for what they think is important as well. It’s that sharing of information, that exchange of ideas, that represents the challenges in the forefront of what assurance is today and it is going to be in the future.”

The conference, which focused on the theme of “Collaboration, Communication and Innovation” this year, is held every three years, with the partners rotating hosting duties. As this year’s host, NASA had multiple employees on the leadership program and organizing committees, including Evans; Nguyen, Dr. Nigel Packham, associate director of SMA at Johnson Space Center; and Eric Issac, deputy director of SMA at Goddard Space Flight Center. 

The NASA team worked with representatives from the other organizations to narrow the scope of this year’s conference and identify which of the submitted abstract proposals would be discussed during the face-to-face meeting. 

“We try to line up topics that are on the front line of assurance,” explained Evans. “Some advanced issues and some near-term issues that we are facing in terms of what could be common among the three agencies, and what across SMA are the challenges.”

Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) items, Model-Based Mission Assurance and technological risk were of particular interest this year.

“One thing that stood out was the importance of modeling and simulation as an important aspect of how we implement assurance across disciplines,” said Evans. “I think this significantly influences what we do now and is the direction we are going and I think model-based will shape that as we go forward. I think also another really important thing that is emerging is the importance of risk as it emerges from implementation of technologies and from the supply chain.”

TRISMAC provides an opportunity for the three agencies, which operate in very different environments and markets, to identify common themes.

“There’s a lot of similarities in what we perceive the issues to be, but the way we operate is different,” explained Evans. “The technical issues are common across the agencies. So while we have differences, we can see the commonality and this is where we can collaborate to advance the state of the art.”

The committee worked to identify a good mix of topics to ensure there was something of interest for everyone. Specifically, Nguyen points to presentations on SpaceWire, the evolution of spaceflight and the evolution of spacecraft. Other topics included human spaceflight plans —with a keynote speech by Kathryn Lueders, program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program — small satellites, supply chain management, Additive Manufacturing, and testing and Reliability. 

“It was pretty powerful to me to be able to draw comparisons and contrasts,” said Nguyen.

While TRISMAC has immediate benefits in that attendees walk away from each conference with new perspectives and ideas, it also lays the groundwork for future collaborative programs between the agencies. 

The next TRISMAC will be in 2021, hosted by JAXA.