2019.P.1.5. An investigation into the paradigm of risk for CubeSats in deep space


Sachin Reddy (1)
Benoit Pigneur (1)

  1. Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, U.K.




CubeSat, Deep Space, Risk


CubeSats are notoriously associated with high performance risk [1][2][3]. The mantra of accelerated development and reduced resource allocation equates to comparatively low levels of mission success, with rates ranging from 23%-77% [1][2]. At present, CubeSats are nearly always the secondary payload on a mission, which means their deadline is fixed. As such, the attitude amongst some developers is that it’s better to have a 5% of it working than a 100% of it never launching [2]. Needless to say, initiatives are underway to improve CubeSats in general [3], and the challenges of deep space – technical, programmatic, etc. [4] – are well documented too. However, at present, there isn’t a holistic understanding of the relationship between the current paradigm of CubeSat development and the additional risk that deep space introduces.

The primary research goal is to explore how the paradigm of risk changes as CubeSats venture beyond their heritage of near-space and into deep-space. The study aims to understand if the acceptance of high performance risk will remain or change with deep space.
Key questions are: Will risk tolerance or appetite change? How will schedule constraint risk be addressed if so? Will the criteria for mission-success remain the same? Most importantly, do all of these risks relate to one another and what are the implications of this?

The strategy is primarily qualitative – It involves interviews with experts from industry, academia and the public-sector to get a holistic appreciation of the problem. Systems Thinking will be applied to identify commonalities and relationships amongst the findings [5]. These results could go on the form the basis of a quantitative study in which the findings are modelled to further enhance understanding. It’s also possible that the conference itself could play a role in further validating the findings.

Assuming that all risks and uncertainties are sufficiently mitigated, the findings should: confirm or deny a change in the paradigm of risk, provide definitions as to why, offer insights into the relationship between risks and lastly improve the limited body of knowledge.

[1] https://bit.ly/2HU01mE
[2] https://go.nasa.gov/2M9HeDD
[3] https://go.nasa.gov/2Yrqa1Z
[4] https://bit.ly/2WpUcBC
[5] https://bit.ly/2CFWjcS


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