Section 5.4 - Open Source Space Program
This is a conceptual design stage study of the need for, justification, and design of an Open-Source Space Program. The Systems Engineering process can be applied to any complex system, including the design of organizations which in turn design space projects. The study both serves as a tutorial example for such design studies in general, and a useful work product. Even a negative result, that open source space programs are not needed or justified, is useful in eliminating a poor option if that turns out to be the result.
Status: the study is approx. 3% complete as of 03 August 2012.
Background of Study
Why even consider open source? Historically space projects have been carried out by the government and commercial sectors, and data have been kept private either for national security or business competition reasons. However this results in duplication of effort, and is therefore inherently inefficient. Scientific fields, where data is published openly, and open-source software, are good examples of non-duplication of effort. The question then becomes can those methods be applied to space projects? The level of technology and size of economies restricted early space projects to the largest governments at first. As technologies have improved and the general size of economies grown, the relative scale required has gone down. Open projects tend to be relatively small, so a second question is whether space projects have reached a scale that open source projects can execute them?
Past Work On This Topic
Defining the "Customer"
The customer in the Systems Engineering process is the entity which has an unmet need or desire which a new system might satisfy. In this case the customer is assumed to be the set of humans who want to make use of the resources of space, but which cannot because it is too difficult or expensive at the moment. There are existing government and commercial space projects, but the government ones at least have shown a remarkable lack of progress in making access to space easier and less expensive. At this point the individuals who make up the customer set are mostly unidentified, so we cannot poll them to find out exactly what requirements they might have. Instead we must start with proxies to represent what they might want, and later incorporate their real requirements if we can identify them to ask.
Establish Project Requirements
Since the unmet need is easier and less expensive access to space to make use of its resources, we must ask easier than what? We will set the baseline as the current path of already existing space programs. If an open-source approach can improve on that path, it would be worth pursuing.
Establishing Project Measures
Normally for a complex task, there will be multiple parameters that measure "goodness" in different ways. In order to compare and select among alternatives these various measures are converted to a common scale.