Space risk management

Space Risk Management

In order to analyse what Space Risk Management is, it is crucial to know the definition of risk.

A risk is an uncertain event that influences the success of the project objectives. It can either be a single event or a series of occurrences that lead to the current project status. Overall, it is relevant to distinguish between threats, which can cause an adverse action to the project objectives, and opportunities, which might positively impact the project.

Risk management identifies and controls uncertainties, enabling projects to overcome challenges and leverage opportunities for success in a competitive world.

One key aspect to be taken into Space Risk Management is the risk assessment from the cost point of view

For example, the statement of work provides a cost, but the manager always allocates a sum of money for uncertain events.

One can avoid threats by not participating in high-risk business areas or reduce them with proper risk control measures from the start. Similarly, staying up-to-date with current technological advancements can enhance opportunities or exploit them for profit.

Both the project accepts threats and opportunities, requiring regular risk reassessment as a standard operation. This includes modifying mitigation measures or transferring to external experts for appropriate handling.

Categorize risks as inherent, residual, or secondary based on origin and project response. Inherent risks are original, residual reduced but remain, and secondary emerge from responses.

Risk ownership divides the owner and the actionee. While the owner essentially knows what the risks are and controls that the company is able to solve them, the actionees are the ones that address a specific risk.

In a space mission, risks encompass potential failures during spacecraft design, build, transportation, launch, or operation. A failure pre-launch can lead to added costs, delays, and loss of critical functions.

The prime management standard of the European Cooperation for Space Standardization (ECSS) initiative, ECSS-M-00, places risk management in a crucial position among the standards defining management practices.

The risk management process for the space industry might use risk diagrams and scales such as the following to monitor the probability of a risk scenario and their severity in order to act accordingly:

The risk management process for the space industry

Technology-related risks often involve challenges requiring more time for solutions.
Two options: risk delay (significant) or allocate extra time for problem-solving to mitigate the technology-related risk. However, the extended time frame creates a secondary risk of increased costs and potential budget overruns.

With risks related to cost and time, a bit lesser with other types of risk, the roles and the responsibilities play an essential part. The person or entity responsible must be clear when any occurrence requires additional money or resources, it is essential to identify the responsible party clearly.

According to NASA Technical Reports, NASA is responsible for establishing risk management policies, goals, and processes for the ISS.

The ISS prime contractors and international partners implement these actions.

The teams evaluate risks in terms of likelihood and qualitatively rank them on a relative scale matrix similar to Fig. 1. Then, the consequences can be technical or affect the ISS schedule or cost. The current risk list is typically dominated by cost and schedule risks, which are considered more restrictive.

The ISS program currently ranks the risk of meteoroid and orbital debris impacts as one of the top 15 risks. Structural safety hazards are reduced with the use of safety factors, ground tests and materials qualification and control, among others.

The approach provides a systematic framework that forces management individuals to evaluate risks regularly and to mitigate critical risks. It encourages the continuous identification of new risks with a transparent review and approval path.


Space risk management is an indispensable aspect of any space mission or project. It encompasses the identification, assessment, and mitigation of potential threats and opportunities throughout the project lifecycle. By analyzing inherent, residual, and secondary risks, space missions can better allocate resources and time, ensuring smooth operations and enhancing the likelihood of success.

Effective risk management enables project managers to make informed decisions, prioritize critical tasks, and allocate resources judiciously. Addressing cost and schedule risks remains a key focus, as they can significantly impact mission success. Moreover, staying updated with technological advancements and industry best practices helps optimize opportunities and achieve mission objectives.

Clear accountability in risk response is crucial, ensuring that responsibility for additional resources or adjustments is apparent when required. Space risk management fosters resilience, adaptability, and contingency planning, enabling space missions to navigate uncertainties and challenges effectively.

As the space industry continues to evolve, robust risk management practices will play an increasingly vital role in driving successful and pioneering space missions, unlocking the potential of space exploration for the betterment of humanity.

Author: Iván Sermanoukian

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