NASA Reliability Initiative Works to Improve Small Satellite Mission Confidence

NASA Reliability Initiative Works to Improve Small Satellite Mission Confidence

3-minute read

A new public-private initiative is working to improve Small Satellite (SmallSat) mission confidence. Historically, using CubeSats or SmallSats for certain types of missions have largely been viewed as unviable due to the mission success rate associated with these missions. As the space industry landscape changes — continuous technological advancements; miniaturization of Electrical, Electronic, and Electromechanical (EEE) Parts and components; and increasing constraints on budget and schedule — both the public and private sector are looking to the small spacecraft platform for a range of missions with expectations of mission success.

To shift the paradigm, the SmallSat Reliability Initiative (SSRI) is collaborating with the Small Satellite System Virtual Institute (S3VI) to define needed SmallSat best practices and design/development guidelines without implementing government-heavy regulations that could stifle innovation steered by the industry.

SSRI and S3VI are engaging the private sector; NASA offices and disciplines, including the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, Reliability and Maintainability, Model-Based Mission Assurance and Quality Assurance; and other governmental agencies, to define approaches for reducing risks associated with a broad range of SmallSat and CubeSat missions — from “do no harm” to those whose failure would result in loss or delay of key national objectives.

“We’re making good progress in defining and identifying best practices and developing guidelines,” said Michael A. Johnson, chief technologist in the Engineering and Technology Directorate at Goddard Space Flight Center. “We’ve made great progress in bringing industry, government and academia together to address these challenges and share knowledge.”

To share the collected and newly developed documents, SSRI and S3VI came up with a concept to create a database where entities could, under a mutual non-disclosure agreement, pool their EEE Part radiation data. S3VI developed the “Small Spacecraft Body of Knowledge,” which includes a centralized radiation database portal to allow access to all the key databases from one site. Many entities agreed to share their data, including the European Space Agency, Space Parts on Orbit Now (SPOON), Small Spacecraft Technology State of the Art, TechPort, NASA’s Electronic Parts and Packaging Program (NEPP) and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

“As we make agreements, we put them online,” said Bruce Yost, S3VI director at Ames Research Center. “We have an internally-grown database where users come to one screen, and depending on the filter, our database scrapes other SmallSat databases to reflect the information through our platform.”

SSRI and S3VI continue to refine the knowledge repository and make it broadly accessible to raise the community’s design and development competencies, while also evaluating alternatives to the traditional approach to screen and test commercial electronics.

In the future, SSRI and S3VI plan to develop a searchable and intelligent web-based framework where users could readily access the knowledge required to develop their mission or system. Through this tool, users could select a targeted mission confidence level and identify other mission constraints — such as the operation environment, targeted mission lifetime, mission architecture constraints and programmatic constraints — and consider these factors access knowledge that will increase the likelihood of mission success.

“We want to develop a type of framework that steers users to the best solutions,” said Johnson. “The environment will be adaptable to your level of expertise.  Like ‘TurboTax’ or a menu-style approach, you can let it steer you the whole way or you can go directly to the relevant knowledge base.”

SSRI is also evaluating using comprehensive model-based approaches to create inductive and predictive models to provide rudimentary insight into the failure modes and component Reliability at the onset of a design and then matures to predictive part and circuit modeling later in the design life cycle.

These developments will be presented and discussed at the Small Satellite Reliability Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM), an invite-only event held every six months to discuss the status of SSRI, key findings, lessons learned and next steps with the SmallSat community.  The next TIM will be in November 2018.

For more information, visit the S3VI website or contact Johnson or Yost.