Design & Construction Standards Overview
- NASA and other organizations have written documents laying out the minimum quality thresholds they expect you to meet when delivering hardware to them.
- You can tailor the documents through a process called “Adjudication”. Your customer will allow changes to the standards by substituting part or all of them with your own design and construction standards as long as the minimum level of quality is achieved.
- Showing the customer you understand these and have a strong plan is an easy way to get on their good side early on in a program.
NASA and other agencies have learned a lot of lessons over the years. They’ve documented ways to avoid the common problems through their various design and construction standards. They cover everything from radio systems to how to torque a fastener.
One of the issues you’ll run into is that there’s a confluence of different standards from different agencies and organizations that a program will be asked to work to. The torque levels may come from NASA, the verification standards may come from “MIL-STD” documents, and the mass approach may come from the AIAA/ANSI organizations. Companies who have been around for a while tend to create their own standards that reference the many different standards.
Primary Standard Sources
The big three sources of standards are NASA, the military, and AIAA/ANSI. NASA organizes their standards (link is below) and provides them for free. The military does not organize their standards, but the documents are often free when you know what you’re asked to use. AIAA/ANSI organize their standards by committees (link is below), but they charge you to access the standards.
All in all, this part of the industry is kind of a mess. It’s one more reason that companies end up writing their own standards.
NASA makes their standards a bit hard to find. The main link is here:
The link gives you the standards that apply across all the centers like JPL, Goddard, and Marshall. However! Different centers specialize in different areas and they have their own standards that supplement or even replace the NASA standards. Those can be found here:
NOTE: You have to change the dropdown box to the center you’re interested in. For instance, Goddard publishes GSFC-7000, which is called “GEVS” in the industry. It has common vibration test approaches and levels. To find it, you need to click the “Center” dropdown at the top of the page and change it to GSFC. See the image at the top of this page for more information.
Programs can use the standards as they are, but most customers are happy to let you tailor them to your program. They want you to prove that your modifications, substitutions, and/or deletions will still result in a quality product. The process of this review is called “adjudication”. Adjudication can take weeks and require various committees and mini-reviews since there are hundreds of pages of standards for some of the biggest programs. (This is one of the reasons small programs tend to just work to the standards as they are.)
Adjudication is usually done early in a program, well before Preliminary Design Review (PDR). It’s in your best interest to set it as an early priority so your team know what they’re working to and your requirements can be written accordingly.
Lessons Learned Bonus
The NASA documents are hosted on pages that also feature lessons learned from implementing (or not implementing) the standards. This is invaluable information that you should take the time to read.
We haven’t been able to find any videos on this subject. We’ll keep looking!
NASA keeps its list at this link. Many of them will not apply to you so pick and choose as you need. Make sure you check out the other links on the left since they lead to additional standards. (This link says “all standards”, but that’s not true.)
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has committees dedicated to creating standards for space systems. NASA and other agencies will sometimes ask (or nudge) you to use them.
These are the links to the mass standard that NASA and other agencies have adopted for many of their projects. Unfortunately, they are locked behind a paywall. Sometimes one private organization will charge less than the other one, so check both links.
Believe it or not, there’s a journal published by the US government on standards. They put together a good issue on space in the link above.