Monday, January 13, 2014

Flight Demo Program Lessons Learned

In the BAA for the DARPA XS-1 program there is a presentation by Jess Sponable about lessons learned from previous flight demonstration programs. It takes a certain level of audacity to quote Machiavelli in a presentation on program management, but the quote is pretty applicable to any new system development (though I agree with Strauss: it must be remembered that Machiavelli teaches wickedness).
It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions, and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones.
The Prince, Machiavelli, 1513

Here are the rules compiled based on previous flight demonstration program experience:
  1. Agree to clearly defined program objectives in advance
  2. Single manager under one agency
  3. Small government and contractor program offices
  4. Build competitive hardware, not paper
  5. Focus on key demonstrations, not everything
  6. Streamlined documentation and reviews
  7. Contractor integrates and tests prototype
  8. Develop minimum realistic funding profiles
  9. Track cost/schedule in near real time
  10. Mutual trust essential
The two that jump out at me are 'single manager under one agency', and 'contractor integrates and tests prototype' (which is really about constraining the size and cost of the test program). Programs like National Aerospace Plane or Project Timberwind come to my mind as falling prey to violating these two rules. Both programs expended a great deal of effort coordinating and reconciling often conflicting interests of multiple federal agencies. Even in the happy event that the interests of the cooperating agencies perfectly align multi-agency participation almost always ensures more bureaucracy. Those programs also spent or planned to spend enormous resources in ground test and specialized supporting infrastructure. In fact, the ballooning cost of the ground test facility for Timberwind was a significant contributing factor in its cancellation.

1 comment:

  1. From the New York Times:
    This occasional column explores topics covered in Science Times 25 years ago to see what has changed, and what has not.
    The National Aero-Space Plane was to be a revolutionary advance beyond the space shuttle.
    In his 1986 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan promised "a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport and accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low-earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours."


    Was the X-30 technologically feasible?

    "No, and it's still not," said Jess Sponable, a program manager in the tactical technology office at Darpa, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
    25 Years Ago, NASA Envisioned Its Own 'Orient Express'