This paper describes the concept of Risk Based Design in the context of NASA’s low volume, high cost missions. The issue of accounting for risk in the design lifecycle has been heavily discussed in the literature under several research topics, including: reliability, risk and uncertainty analysis, optimization, decision-based design and robust design. Due to the risky nature of space missions, NASA centers have adopted a variety of techniques—developing tools, procedures, and guidelines to mitigate risk. Most of these techniques, however, require significant amounts of detailed and possibly quantitative information, making them inapplicable to early stages of design, where the requirements and models are vague, decisions are tentative and probabilities are unknown. This survey paper first presents a brief description of a design environment at NASA as well as current risk-based design practices and methods. Then, a summary of the topics from the NASA’s Risk Management Conference is presented, followed by current research efforts within NASA to account for risk in early stage design. The purpose of this paper is provide a survey of NASA’s capabilities (or lack thereof) in accounting for risk in the early design phase. This work lays the foundation for more effective collaborations between NASA researchers and the academic research community.

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