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December 29, 2010 Vol. 3, Issue 12


A multiagency approach to developing Earth-observing or space science missions typically results in additional complexity and cost, according to a report from the National Research Council.

From afar, multiagency collaboration on spaceflight projects sounds like a good way for government agencies to share costs and capabilities on Earth-observing and space science missions. Up close, these collaborations pose organizational challenges that have significant systems engineering implications. A report by the Space Studies Board’s Committee on the Assessment of Impediments to Interagency Cooperation on Space and Earth Science Missions, found that:

 “Advocates of collaboration have sometimes underestimated the difficulties and associated costs and risks of dividing responsibility and accountability between two or more partners; they also discount the possibility that collaboration will increase the risk in meeting performance objectives.”

The committee noted that impediments to interagency collaboration can result from both internal sources (e.g., differences in goals, ambitions, cultures, stakeholders, and agency-unique technical standards and processes) and external sources (e.g., differing budget cycles, and changes in policy direction from the administration and Congress). As a result, “…many of the impediments to interagency collaboration, both internal and external, manifest themselves as impediments to good systems engineering.”

The committee recommended that agencies conduct Earth and space science projects independently unless:

  • Cooperation will result in significant added scientific value to the project over what could be achieved by a single agency alone; or
  • Unique capabilities reside within one agency that are necessary for the mission success of a project managed by another agency; or
  • The project is intended to transfer from research to operations, necessitating a change in responsibility from one agency to another during the project; or
  • There are other compelling reasons to pursue collaboration, e.g., a desire to build capacity at one of the cooperating agencies.

Read the report.

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