Planning the project has a number of risks where planning is crucial in the successful development of a system. In this information technology (IT) project, I will briefly describe the CubeSat project where the following project risks are considered. What is the most significant risk that could lead to the failure of this project? Working on this project, how would one determine its risks? What project management practice, tool, or technique would be the most effective in mitigating that risk?
What is a CubeSat? CubeSats are miniaturized low orbiting satellites that are typically much smaller than a regular satellite and much less expensive. These lunch box size CubeSats can be launched at one-tenth the cost of a traditional satellite, in fact can these CubeSats have been launched from the International Space Station. Unlike most IT projects, one of the project risks for CubeSats is once launched to correct a bug in space is more difficult.
When assessing risks to the mission, this step must be assessed prior to the launch in order to avoid potential problems. For example, the Mars Climate Orbiter project in 1998 (Sauser, B.J., 2009) had crashed into the Mars at the wrong angle because of several problems. Mainly one important detail was overlooked; one group was working on the thrusters measured in English units of pounds-force seconds while another group measured in Newton-seconds and the numbers produced resulted in the thrusters more powerful than they should have been by 4.45 times. The risk of not catching this error early in the project resulted in a $327.6 million dollar error for NASA and a failed space mission. Imagine if this were a manned mission, the risk of failure would not only be a crashed space probe but human lives too.
Since my CubeSat project is an unmanned mission with a smaller scope and smaller dollar amount as compared to the Mars Climate Orbiter project, the risks to the mission is much smaller but nevertheless real. The reality of space is that it is unforgiving. One of my many challenges is to have the system survive the trip into space, the harsh environment of space, and accomplish mission objectives. One of the risks is will the CubeSat be able to withstand the launch into space?
Risk one is the likelihood that something may rattle off during the launch causing a mechanical failure or system failure of the CubeSat. The potential impact on the project may cause component or system failure. Ways to address this risk would be to test the CubeSat in a vibration chamber for a period of time.
Risk two assessment is the harsh environment of space at the low earth orbits (LEO). The LEO has temperature ranges from -170 ˚ C to 123 ˚ C (Plannte, J., 2004). The risk is will the battery be able to withstand these temperature ranges? What effects will these temperature ranges affect the CubeSat’s subsystems? The likelihood of the risk is high that the battery may explode. The potential impact on the project may cause component or system failure. Ways to address this risk would be to test the CubeSat in an environmental chamber for a period of time.
Risk three assessment for one of the mission objectives is communications. Can the CubeSat maintain communications for the duration of the mission? The likelihood of the risk is high that if the subsystems such as antennae, electronics, and battery fail, resulting in the communications failure with ground control. The potential impact on the project may cause system failure with inability to control the CubeSat. Ways to address this risk would be to test the CubeSat’s communication functionality during the environmental testing period.
Project Management Tools
Two project management tools that I have had used is a Gantt chart and program evaluation review technique (PERT) chart. These project management tools allows one to be made aware of timeline risks and process management risks such as delays to tasks from dependencies. From this these charts, I can better manage resources and direct more resources to a particular task. In this case, the risk of the battery failure may lead to delays in the schedule and overall success of the mission.
Planning the project has a number of risks where planning is crucial in the successful development of a system or disaster as in the case of the Mars Climate Orbiter project in 1998 (Sauser, B.J., 2009). In this information technology (IT) project, briefly described is the CubeSat project where project risks were considered for launch, space, and subsystem testing environments. Finally, also discussed are the project management tools used such as Gantt and PERT charts in order to minimize project risks.
Dennis, A., Wixom, B. H., & Tegarden, D. (2015). Systems analysis and design: An object-oriented approach with UML. John Wiley & Sons.
Plannte, J., Lee, B., Dynamic Range Corporation. (2004). Environmental Conditions for Space Flight Hardware – A Survey. Retrieved from https://nepp.nasa.gov/files/11004/Environmental%20Testing%20Survey.doc.
Sauser, B. J., Reilly, R. R., & Shenhar, A. J. (2009). Why projects fail? How contingency theory can provide new insights–A comparative analysis of NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter loss. International Journal of Project Management, 27(7), 665-679.