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Spacecraft missions are inherently shrouded in uncertainty. Mission success (or failure) is driven by so many factors, many of which are beyond the team’s control, that it is impossible to know beforehand what will happen. That said, it is possible to foresee possible scenarios and plan ahead in case they come to happen. This is essentially what risk management is about.

Risk management is defined by NASA NPR 8000.4 A as “a set of activities aimed at understanding, controlling, and, as appropriate, accepting risk to the achievement of objectives.” Likewise, ISO 31000 defines it as the "identification, assessment and prioritization of risks followed by coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of unfortunate events."

But what do we mean by risk? NASA NPR 8000.4 A defines risk as “the potential for performance shortfalls with respect to achieving explicitly established and stated performance requirements.” That is, a risk is the possibility of occurrence of an event that can impact (usually negatively) the mission’s goals. Based on this definition, risks can range from the very mundane and insignificant, to the catastrophic. The objective of a risk management plan is to identify possible risks, determine their likelihood of occurrence as well as their potential impact, and plan on how to prevent them, if possible, or how to respond if they occur.

In any spacecraft mission it is of paramount importance to have a well-thought out and reliable risk management program to ensure a smooth and successful mission. To date however, there has not been a standardized and accepted risk management plan specifically for university Cube Sat missions. This course will provide some basic guidelines to help create and implement a risk management plan specifically designed for CubeSat missions. Successful mission completion is always the ultimate goal in a CubeSat project and it is clear that a CubeSat-specific, standardized risk management plan would be a very important tool to ensure that success. Defining an appropriately-scaled method for applying risk management to University CubeSat endeavors will result in much better decision-making and ultimately more successful missions.