Although there is anecdotal evidence of too much required paperwork, the committee is not aware of any formal study of optimal levels of oversight.3 In any event, reduction of oversight does not mitigate the importance, or lessen the involvement, of government personnel, as they play a valuable role in ensuring mission success if they are a working part of the team rather than just project observers.

Many programs—Earth Observing System (EOS) AM is an example4—have incorporated NASA personnel into the product development teams. The Air Force has also been well integrated into several programs that used the product team approach. However, it is difficult to incorporate these plans into a proposal, as the government's evaluation of cost and effort can be adversely affected if it is believed that the contractor intends to use the government personnel to make decisions or accomplish tasks that should be done by the contractor. Closer integration between the technical personnel and the end user could also achieve shorter development times. This approach conceivably could extend into the proposal phase as well as the development phase. In this way, there would be fewer breaks in communication between producers and users, and new developments on either the technical or scientific side could be rapidly incorporated into the mission.

Building on experiences in the commercial manufacturing industry, contractors could rely more heavily on integrated product development teams rather than dividing the effort, as is typically done, into separate mission components. This approach could extend to all parts of the mission, including the ground, launch, bus, and sensor systems and might reduce failures due to lack of communication as well as stimulate more creativity and innovation. Notable examples of this approach can be seen in the automobile industry and in much of the Japanese manufacturing industry where individual companies regularly work together to produce a complete system. The General Motors Saturn automobile plant follows this model, as worker teams participate in the end-to-end manufacturing process.5


Programmatic Risks

There are many risks to the management approaches outlined above. Reduced government oversight may substantially increase the risk of failure by not providing an outside viewpoint during the development process. Shorter development times (and perhaps lower profit margins) may encourage companies to take shortcuts and higher risk (but lower cost) options without a thorough analysis. None of these potential problems is an expected or proven consequence of reduced oversight; indeed, some might occasionally occur with present levels of government oversight.

Satellite development and launch operations are complicated, and seemingly innocuous errors can propagate through the system. For example, one of the early Pegasus XL missions failed because designers relied only on numerical modeling of vehicle aerodynamics rather than actual wind tunnel tests. When the model was run with incorrect numbers, the resultant control software became flawed. Fleeter (1997) reports that a similar reliance on models rather than actual tests resulted in the near failure of the Clementine mission.6

Government procurements are often based on rapid analyses by contractors. This leads to the additional risk of not detecting errors that might otherwise be found in a longer government review. In the best scenario, these errors are discovered when the actual development effort begins. Costs may escalate, but the program is not compromised. In a more pessimistic scenario, the errors are not found and program failure may result.


 An informal review of software development deliverables was done for the Space Station Program in approximately 1994; it showed that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers required 4 documents; the Air Force, 18; and the Goddard Space Flight Center, 21. The NASA requirements have since been reduced, but not drastically. A Department of Defense initiative to reduce the use of imposed standards has been reflected in requests for proposals since about 1996 and has reduced some of the agency's formalism of control.


 L.C. Scholz, personal communication, based on experience at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space on the EOS program.


 See, for example, "Integrating Skill and Experience on the Shop Floor" in Shaiken et al. (1996).


 A Clementine control system thruster had been incorrectly designed so that it would turn on, but not off. As a result, the spacecraft spun until the errant thruster ran out of fuel. Clementine's failure may actually have been due to a problem in software that was loaded after the primary mission was completed. The point of the discussion is that success or failure can occur with or without oversight.

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