Space Systems Verification Program


2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, which is responsible for countless captivating images of asteroids, planets, galaxies, stars, and other astronomical features. It is a welcome coincidence that the past year has been productive for space travel. In December, NASA launched an unmanned exploration flight test of the Orion spacecraft, which will take a crew on exploration several years from now. This spacecraft could potentially go to Mars around the year 2035. SpaceX has had several cargo resupply missions with its Falcon 9 and Dragon transport vehicles. Even in the last week, the space probe New Horizons captured never-before-seen images of Pluto and its moon Charon. Standards are essential for the technology, terminology, and practices of space exploration organizations.

Space exploration requires the best possible technology, since it is accomplishing what was thought to be impossible for the majority of human existence. Anything launching out of the Earth’s atmosphere must be tested to prevent any possible problems once it is out in space. AIAA S-117-2010: Space Systems Verification Program and Management Process provides a set of guidelines to be followed during construction for the verification of all general space systems (SS), manned or unmanned. One notable cause of problems with space exploration machinery is lack of proper testing during initial construction, which can lead to costly replacements and other issues post-launch. Verifying the SS at the correct time prevents any surprise payments and ensures the safety of all personnel operating the SS.

As discussed in the standard, space systems generally include five segments. These are the Space Segment, Launch Segment, Ground Segment (GS), User Segment, and Satellite Control Network Segment. AIAA S-117-2010 is intended to address the first three of these segments, but the latter two are also covered to some extent. Verification starts at the lowest level and the earliest phase of construction and continues until the purchase of the SS. The six verification management processes that should be utilized at each level are:

Process 1: Requirement flow-down and establishment of specification process
Process 2: Verification cross-reference matrix process
Process 3: Integration and test process
Process 4: Individual specification dedicated verification ledger process
Process 5: Sell-Off/Consent-To-Ship process
Process 6: Verification-related risk management process

These management processes allow for consistent and uniform verification among different SS builders. Proper verification during construction will also allow for swift re-verification, if needed.

Verification can easily be confused with validation, but they are two independent processes. Validation confirms that each system level is built to satisfy the stakeholders’ needs, while verification ensures that the overall system and its components satisfy each specification. AIAA S-117-2010 is intended for SS verification, but can also facilitate validation activities, which often coordinate closely with verification.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronauts (AIAA) is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. It sets some of the different aerospace standards that are used by many different organizations. They have 30,000 individual members from 88 countries and 95 corporate members. AIAA is an ANSI accredited standards developing organization.
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