Mission Assurance Summit Focuses on Efficiency and Industrial Base Issues

Corporate Staff
posted December 15, 2011

During the fourth annual U.S. Space Enterprise Mission Assurance Summit held Dec. 1, leaders from government and industry discussed continued efforts to ensure the overall success of space programs with a focus on workforce excellence.

The summit was attended by senior representatives from government and industry, including Richard McKinney, undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs; Chris Scolese, deputy administrator for NASA; Navy retired Rear Adm. Liz Young, director of the Systems Engineering Directorate, National Reconnaissance Office; Doug Loverro, the senior civilian executive from the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center; and Tom Bulk from the Missile Defense Agency. The summit was hosted by The Aerospace Corporation.

This year’s keynote speaker was Air Force Gen. William Shelton, commander, Air Force Space Command. In his remarks, Gen. Shelton stressed the importance of space in national security.

“We can’t allow ourselves to take our eye off the ball, which is mission assurance,” stated Shelton. “We simply cannot afford mistakes, operationally or financially. … Without mission assurance, we risk losing satellites.”

During a candid panel discussion, executive leaders from NASA, NRO, MDA, and SMC shared their perspectives on the priorities and challenges faced by the space industrial base, particularly during a period of budget reductions. While all noted the string of successful launches over the past year, they acknowledged that mission success was due in large part to the substantial efforts applied during integration and test to resolve design and parts issues.

“Up front work is essential,” stated Bulk, recalling problems of the past. “Mission assurance can only be achieved through a close collaboration between government and industry, in particular in the proper identification and characterization of risks throughout the product lifecycle.”

Scolese further emphasized the need to communicate the value of mission assurance and collaboration across agencies, from NASA to MDA, so that mistakes are not repeated.

Loverro stressed that providing the workforce with the right tools and knowledge and ensuring they understand the commander’s intent will enable them to carry out the mission successfully.

Young added, “develop a framework we can put people in, where they can succeed, and remain innovative.”

The effort to develop a better mission assurance program was initiated after the 2003 Defense Science Board recommended that industry address serious problems in the U.S. space industrial base. The goal of the effort is to create an environment that delivers 100 percent mission success by implementing lessons learned, adopting best practices, and sharing of knowledge across agencies, offices, and the industry. Last year, the four agencies signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to work more closely together to assure mission success.

During her remarks, Dr. Wanda Austin, president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, enthusiastically noted that “we’ve enjoyed an unprecedented string of launch and mission successes in several areas of space,” while also reminding the audience of space professionals that “with these successes, we now enjoy greater confidence from our customers that the capabilities they need can be achieved quickly and on budget.”

Austin also noted that increased budget pressures demand that the space enterprise remain innovative as it works to optimize mission assurance in the transition from first of a kind systems to production models.

Four intensive break-out sessions provided participants with opportunities to work together on solutions. The sessions covered retaining space systems design expertise in a constrained budget environment; developing effective space systems program managers to achieve acquisition success; developing workmanship excellence — knowing what to do and doing it; and optimizing mission assurance — posturing the program workforce for efficient execution.

The Mission Assurance Summit is held yearly in December.