To be successful in today’s rapidly-changing global business environment, companies must be prepared to deal with a number of risks. Some obstacles are well known and listed in the risk management activities plan. But some, like a global pandemic, appear unexpectedly and add even more challenges. 

When talking about the space industry, it has always faced substantial risks, both internal and external. 

The cost of error remains crucial. Thanks to innovations over the last 10 years, the production and delivery of 1 kg into orbit has been reduced several times over. However, the industry is still extremely costly. In addition, because of the vast range of possible force majeure factors, space projects are very difficult to insure. 

Scheduling is equally essential. Any space project must be calculated dozens of steps ahead. Even a slight shift in the schedule can lead to failure of international programs and the destruction of key contracts. 

Competition is also a serious challenge, especially for small and micro companies. The speed of implementing innovations and the ability to regroup quickly after failure are strategically important for survival. 

At the same time, risks can open up new opportunities for those who are not afraid of challenges. 

Bryan Dean, CEO of Dragonfly Aerospace, shares his vision of the current situation in the industry and the connection between risk and new opportunities in space.


How you see risk and how you see opportunity, how we all understand these words.

I will limit my response to discussing technical or project risks as opposed to company risks in the categories of commercial or legal. In a space mission, a risk is a potential failure that can take place during the design, build, transportation, launch or operation of a spacecraft on orbit. During the period up until launch a failure can result in cost overruns, schedule delays and potentially the loss of a critical function of the spacecraft.

During and after launch, a failure can result in the partial or complete loss of the spacecraft or a function of the spacecraft. Depending on the severity, this can lead to a total loss of mission or a reduction in the performance or lifetime of the spacecraft.

As engineers, we try to identify and design around removing as many risks as possible

Share your story with a risk that you changed into an opportunity or crisis, how would you act now?

Risk: collapse of space capacity in South Africa

Opportunity: to start a new space company with a new way of thinking and to promote South African space engineering and technology to the world

Risk: Single Event Effects: SEU, SEL, SEGR. Traditional approach to use expensive radiation hardened electronic components and materials – often with reduced performance and increased mass

Opportunity: Commercial component approach. Make use of the latest advances in electronics and materials. Reduced cost, Increased performance, higher availability

Your tips (2-3) how to analyze risks in space project. Did you, your team, come up with a new idea for a project or product/service once you build plan for mitigating risks? How do you motivate your team to look for solutions and risks?

For us as a new company, risks that materialize can lead to the death of the company. We also need to move very fast because the market is rapidly changing at the moment. I have asked my team to prioritize schedule and reliability over performance. We can rather develop performance incrementally over multiple future versions with an iterative design philosophy.

In terms of identifying risks, our team focuses on part stress analysis, failure mode analysis and identifying single point failures. In general, we apply a dual redundancy policy where possible and try to remove any single point failures. Where we can remove single point failures then we try to have graceful degradation.

Is the new space a risk or an opportunity? What are some pros and cons of this trend?

There is a large increase in the number of satellites on orbit. This certainly increases the risk of orbital conjunctions or collisions. At the same time NewSpace satellites tend to fly in lower orbits and reenter in a much shorter period.

In general, in the CubeSat domain there is a higher chance of satellites failing on orbit due to reduced design review and analysis and in many cases lack of redundancy

How does it look in real life: do you analyze and evaluate risks in your projects or is it more like crisis management?

We definitely analyse and design around the risks that we can identify. There are always those unknown unknowns that you just have to deal with when they arrive. If you have designed in some margin for error and redundancy and the ability to reconfigure on-orbit then you will normally be ok.