Consortium Standards Bulletin- June 2005
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July 2005
Vol IV, No. 7


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Rocket science may be ultra-sophisticated, but it also depends on a multitude of standards, many of which are unique to space applications. With the languishing of both the Shuttle program and the commercial launch market, the standards infrastructure needed to set these standards has been lagging in development as well. Print this article


More than 50 SSOs create standards that are needed to create and support space missions. In this article we describe those that are most involved and their areas of expertise, in order to present a picture of standard setting for space applications as it exists today. We also review a recent report on inadequacies in the U.S. aerospace standards infrastructure, and the challenges confronting U.S. leadership in space as a result. Print this article


NASA utilizes over 3,400 standards developed by more than 50 SSOs to conduct R&D and to design, deploy and manage multiple manned and unmanned missions from 11 major (and many minor) facilities. It’s all done through a unique management system designed and implemented in recent years. We are pleased in this issue to present a detailed interview with Paul Gill, NASA Technical Standards Program Manager, who tells us how standards are developed, coordinated and used by NASA. Print this article

Early this month we added a daily news blog to to give you up-to-the-minute analysis of breaking standards news. Here’s a sample
Standards are useful because they’re supposed to provide fixed reference points. But often those points are based on fixed assumptions. So how do you use standards when the assumptions never apply to where you are?




Thirty-six years ago this week, human beings walked on another world for the first time, and the entire planet watched in awe. This month, the same nation that achieved that feat hopes to resume sending its astronauts into space using its own launch system for the first time in two and a half years. In between those two points in time lies a long period of dramatic robotic missions launched by the United States (and other nations), but stagnation in manned missions and in the development of new launch systems and enabling technologies.

In this issue we examine the role that standards can play in reinvigorating the global space program, as well as the challenges that lie in the way of achieving those results, particularly as regards the ability of the U.S. to assert leadership in setting those standards.

In our Editorial, we examine the important relationship between the exotic practice of “Rocket Science” and the far less glamorous pursuit of setting the standards that enable such rocket science to pay off.

In our Feature article we present a detailed overview of the state of setting standards for space applications today, concluding with a review of a sobering report that details the dramatic need for increased, and more cohesive, standard setting for such purposes. The report also describes the substantial lead that Europe enjoys in this process over the U.S. We are grateful for the cooperation of senior managers of many of the leading space standards organizations in compiling the information for this article.

In our Trends Article we are pleased to present a detailed report on how standards are selected, developed and deployed by NASA. The article includes an extensive interview with Paul Gill, the Technical Standards Program Manager for NASA.

In this month’s selection from what was formerly called the Standards Blog (and has now been renamed “Consider This…”), we take a look at the challenges presented by using standards in relativistic environments, both on earth and in space.

And finally, we introduce a new Standards Blog, which is the name we have borrowed for the more “traditional” blog that we launched this month at to provide you with up-to-the-minute analysis of breaking standards news.

As always, we hope you enjoy this issue.
    Best Regards,
  Andrew Updegrove
  Editor and Publisher



Andrew Updegrove


NASA – the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration – is a place where, literally, rocket scientists work.

The popular phrase “rocket science” conjures up a variety of concepts: brilliance, involvement with the ultimate in cutting-edge technology, and engineering challenges with no margin for error. And indeed, the practice of rocket science involves not only sending missions into rarified atmospheres, but also working in a rarified atmosphere of unique, rather than mass-market, design. Yet even in such limited-production environments, standards are important, and in some instances, even more important than they are in more pedestrian settings.

And while the popular perception of rocket science is one of Olympian discipline, practiced in secluded, secure locations, it relies on centuries of advances in disciplines as disparate as mathematics, materials science, and all types of engineering (chemical, hydraulic, structural and so on). Thus, while those at NASA and their brethren in space agencies around the world spend much of their time designing thrusters and orbital paths, they must also traffic in the ordinary world of screws, wire and sheet materials, and take an active interest in how standards are set for these more pedestrian items. True, when specified for use in space applications, those familiar items will be subjected to far more drastic stresses, strains, and expectations than would be placed upon them in almost any other setting. In consequence, exotic alloys rather than chrome steel may need to be specified for the screws that hold elements of a spacecraft together. But regardless of their composition, screws for household appliances and screws for space applications use the same standards for their threads and heads.

NASA employees must also spend a great deal of their time helping develop new types of standards as well – for communications between spacecraft and for other applications unique to aviation use, or to utilization in space. As a result, they help develop standards in myriad standards development organizations (some thirty in all) that set standards for all manner of individual items, assemblies, physical processes and information technologies, some of which do, and some of which don’t have unique space applications.

This was not always so, since traditionally NASA (as was the case with other government agencies) used so-called “government-unique” standards in much of its procurement activities, even when correlative standards already existed in the private sector. Thus, while NASA would participate in the development of those specifications, the number of settings in which that participation occurred was limited to a smaller number of standard setting organizations. But with the passage of the Technology Transfer and Advancement Act by Congress in 1995, all government agencies were directed to use public consensus standards (NASA had already moved independently in the same direction), and therefore the worlds of space procurement and general standard setting came to overlap to a greater degree than had ever existed before.

Beginning with the Apollo-Soyuz docking mission in July of 1975, another level of standards collaboration had became necessary, this time at the international level. With the increasing pressure to combine missions for political and budgetary reasons, more and more complex international space missions were planned, requiring increasing cooperation on standards among the space agencies of the world. With ever more nations participating at this level, the need for international cooperation in standard setting continues to increase. Inevitably, the same type of national and regional forces that sometimes complicate any other type of standard setting activity will arise in the domain of space standards as well.

As the number of useful disciplines to which earth-orbiting platforms can be dedicated has increased (such as telecommunications, earth science information gathering and weather forecasting), new entrants into the space industry have followed, first to build or utilize satellites, and later to compete in the market to launch such payloads. Today, the X Prize has helped foster a new crop of companies interested in space. These companies, unlike their large, government contract funded predecessors, are nimble and entrepreneurial, and represent the first effort by private industry to not only build, but also to design launch vehicles on their own initiative and at their own expense, using innovative concepts and non-traditional materials.

Almost five decades from the birth of the space age, there is therefore a broad range of stakeholders in the space industry, from military (spy satellites and weapons systems), to NASA (exploration and science), to industry (launch vehicles, telecommunications and GIS-based services) to the nascent travel and adventure sector (the X Prize contestant companies and, most recently, Virgin Air, as a first customer for Bert Rutan’s now-demonstrated suborbital rocket design). This increase in stakeholders has, not surprisingly, brought increasing convergence in the types of standards that need to interact in space applications, bringing additional earth-based standards (such as civil aviation safety regulations and commercial mapping standards) together with space-unique standards.

This increasing activity has resulted in the formation of new working groups not only in traditional standard setting organizations, such as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the aerospace technical committees chartered by ISO, but also efforts within information technology consortia, such as the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and the Object Management Group (OMG), and the formation of entirely new, dedicated organizations, such as the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), which was formed by the space agencies of the various nations active in space in order to develop the standards needed to enable cooperation among multiple nations in the support of an in-process mission of a single agency.

Thus, there are many types of standards activities in operation today that interlock and interrelate, some of which may be thought of as “first generation” efforts that adapt aviation standards to space applications, others as “second generation” efforts that set space-unique standards, and finally “third generation” activities that seek to adapt modern commercial technologies (such as software architecture and geoinformation services) to take advantage of space based platforms. Unfortunately the number of such first generation standards is in many areas too numerous and incoherent, while there are far too few second generation standards in existence to create increased demand for more standards of the third variety.

Like many of my generation, I wish that the promise of the Apollo program had been followed by similarly dramatic feats and technical advancement. Sadly, the rapid advances of the 1960s soon gave way to slow progress in the wake of fitful commitments in the United States, a collapsing economy in the Soviet Union, and the absence of a real scientific mission for the International Space Station effort that is siphoning funds from the space budgets of many nations in addition to the United States.

With a flat commercial launch market for the last several years (a state that is projected to continue for the indefinite future), stagnation has occurred in the U.S. in the realm of setting the standards that enable space missions as well. This is the warning issued in a recent report entitled, “The Future of Aerospace Standardization”, delivered in January of this year by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). The authors of that report conclude that “Industry, NASA, DoD and the FAA urgently need to work together to ensure the development of globally recognized standards that support both government and commercial space interests.” Internationally, and in Europe in particular, the authors see greater and more coherent efforts taking place, leading to the possibility that America’s leadership in space may erode.

Will the return of the U.S. Space Shuttle to active service represent a watershed event that will reinvigorate the U.S. space program? Unfortunately, no one expects that to happen, as the remaining missions for the orbiter are largely committed to completing the International Space Station. Will the new U.S. commitment to return to the moon, establish a permanent base there, and press on to Mars mark a revolution in government support for space exploration? It is hard to find true believers in that outcome either, given the general budget deficits stretching into the indefinite future and the limited degree of funding that NASA has even initially been promised to achieve these ambitious goals. Perhaps the sound of “The East is Red” beaming from space once again, and this time from a Chinese lunar lander rather than a Soviet sputnik, will mark such a turning point.

More likely, the successful launch of Space Ship One, the low budget, privately funded effort to win the X Prize will mark that watershed. As with civil aviation in the century just ended (which received much-needed support in its critical early years through receipt of lucrative federal mail-carrying contracts), the future of space innovation and accomplishment is more likely to come from private industry, following on the heels of the publicly funded research, development and prototypes of the federal space program, and augmented by the individual design creativity and innovation of space-age entrepreneurs. Doubtless, a manned mission into orbit in a private sector vehicle is still many years in the future, but delivering small payloads into orbit, perhaps via rockets launched from high-altitude aircraft, may come much sooner.

While standards inevitably will play one of the least glamorous supporting roles in any such renaissance of space utilization, neither will they be the least essential element in making that reality possible. Unless the United States is willing to play (at best) a supporting role to Europe in creating the standards needed to support greater and more rewarding access to space, government and industry would be wise to hear and heed the wake up call delivered by the AIA report.

Comments? Email:

Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove




Andrew Updegrove

Abstract: Today, there are three layers of standard setting activities supporting space applications: a layer comprising a small number of dedicated organizations and ISO subcommittees formed expressly for that purpose; a layer of working groups within other standard setting organizations (SSOs) that have been formed to create standards unique to specific space applications; and a much more numerous layer of working groups in scores of SSOs that create standards that are relevant, but not unique, to space applications. This article will describe the first layer in detail, as well as several examples of the second layer in order to give an overview of standard setting for space applications today, and how this infrastructure is evolving. It also profiles the standards areas and membership of each SSO, and the liaison relationships that they have established in order to help create a nascent standards infrastructure to support space applications. This article closes by reviewing the recommendations of a recent critical report that urges prompt action by government and industry to improve this infrastructure in order to maintain United States leadership in the space industry.


Introduction: Technical standards are essential tools for all industries, and as each new modern industry has come into being, new standard setting activities have been launched to provide these tools. Usually, one or more new standard setting organization (SSO) is created to serve that purpose, while in other cases, existing organizations add new working groups to meet the need. Often, both types of activity follow to fill the newly created vacuum. Characteristically, as an industry matures, these dedicated and peripheral SSOs evolve a network of liaison relationships among themselves in order to coordinate, develop and maintain the standards that are needed on an ongoing basis to support that

industry. However, the more complex an industry is and the more numerous the SSOs that address its needs, the more imperfect such an ad hoc network is likely to be.

With the development of the capability to launch payloads (telecommunications, scientific, exploratory, and so on) into orbit, a broad range of standard setting activities has been commissioned to enable these intensely challenging and technical adventures to occur, although these efforts have still only scratched the surface of the standards that would be required to enable the efficient operation of the space industry. A review of how standard setting for space applications has evolved to date, and the types of activities that have been commissioned, can provide not only a portrait of the state of space standard setting today, but also an example of how new standard setting infrastructures come into being to serve emerging industries as they gain traction in the marketplace.

Not surprisingly, there is a pyramidal hierarchy of SSOs serving the space industry that becomes less numerous as its degree of direct applicability to space applications increases. At the apex of the pyramid is a small group of SSOs that have both a broad scope and a significant dedication to the creation of space-unique standards. Two of those organizations were formed within the existing structure of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which functions as the umbrella under which all manner of disparate global standard setting activities are undertaken. The third international organization was formed by and for the national space agencies (although commercial enterprises can participate in its activities as well). In addition, there is a variety of national, and in the case of Europe, regional SSOs that are dedicated in whole or in part to developing standards for space applications.

At the base of the pyramid lies a very broad range of SSOs that create standards that are relevant to space applications. This is hardly surprising, in that spacecraft are complex machines employing almost every kind of mechanical and electronic system, and must be designed, built and launched in earth-based factories and launch facilities, all of which use computers, telecommunications, and materials of all types.

In the middle of the pyramid is a growing number of discrete working groups and committees in disparate SSOs many of which relate to doing productive work in, or from, space. These committees exist to facilitate the use of telecommunications satellites, performing useful work based on global information system technology, and other activities that can be performed using earth-orbit platforms.

This article will attempt to describe the network of dedicated and peripheral SSOs that have evolved to serve the government agencies and private commercial participants in the space industry, detailing the specific types of standards being created by individual SSOs, the types of members that each SSO attracts, and the liaison relationships that are maintained among these participants.

A greater percentage of the SSOs that are in the first “layer” described above will be described below, but this article will also profile representative national standard setting organizations that have significant involvement in standards for space applications, as well as a sampling of those SSOs in more unrelated industry domains that have added activities to address the convergence of their missions with those of the dedicated SSOs. It will close with a review of a recently completed report by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) entitled “The Future of Aerospace Standardization,” 2 which includes an assessment of the current state of standard setting for space applications, and recommends urgent action in order to properly support future progress in space, and to avoid the erosion of American leadership in that enterprise.

I. “Apex” SSOs We will begin with a review of the organizations (other than space agencies) that exist at the top of the pyramid whose main standards development focus is to enable space applications. 3

A. International Organization for Standardization (ISO): Since its inception, the International Organization for Standardization (popularly known by its non-acronymic name “ISO”) has added new technical domains to its work programs on a regular basis, as new industries have emerged. Within the ISO system, however, new technical committees (TCs) may only be formed if an existing committee could not appropriately address the new technical area. If such a committee does exist, then appropriate subcommittees are created under its authority.

     ISO TC 20: Rather than creating a new TC to serve the nascent space industry, the existing ISO TC that had been previously created to serve aviation needs was renamed the “Aircraft and Space Vehicles TC” and its charter broadened to address technical standards relevant or unique to space applications. 4

The current scope of work of that TC is: “ Standardization of materials, components and equipment for construction and operation of aircraft and space vehicles as well as equipment used in the servicing and maintenance of these vehicles.” As of this writing, there are nine active Subcommittees (SCs) and three Working Groups under ISO TC 20. Two of these Subcommittees are directly germane to this article, although specific standards of other subcommittees may also be useful in space applications.

ISO is in many respects a virtual organization that credentials standards efforts, but does not itself operate them. TCs and SCs are therefore organized, staffed and administered by other standards organizations that volunteer to serve as Secretariats for this purpose. Often, the Secretariat role is highly desirable, as the work of a new TC or SC can complement and leverage the mission of the SSOs that volunteer, and the successful applicant may find that its standing in the international standards community may be increased as a result of its new responsibilities. The Secretariat for ISO TC 20 is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), but the functional role is provided by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) , which was accredited to this purpose by ANSI.

Participation in all ISO committees and subcommittees is through the national member body recognized by ISO (in the United States, this role is fulfilled by ANSI). Member bodies may enroll in committees, and send guest representatives to meetings if they have not formally enrolled.

With this as prelude, we may turn to the two SCs within ISO TC 20 that were formed for the specific purpose of developing standards for space applications.

     ISO TC 20/SC 13: Space Data and Information Transfer Systems: The Secretariat of the subcommittee is ANSI, but the functional role is provided by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) , an ANSI accredited SSO that was appointed to this purpose by ANSI. As of this writing, the subcommittee comprises 11 participating and 4 observer members, and has issued 31 standards.

In addition to liaison relationships internal to ISO, the subcommittee maintains formal liaison relationships with seven international organizations that address a variety of domains that are relevant to, or in part dependent on, its standards, including the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), the Consultative Committee on Space Data Systems (CCSDS, described below), the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), and the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS). 5

The Charter and Scope of the subcommittee are as follows:

ISO TC 20/SC 13:

1. Is an international forum that addresses the standardization needs of organizations and personnel involved with data and information transfer and exchange for civil space applications.

2. Promotes international cooperation and progress in civil space applications by encouraging, supporting, and proposing national and international missions; and seeking and initiating new concepts for international cooperative projects and missions. This includes spacecraft missions, ground based radio science, and space and ground tracking networks.

3. Promotes opportunities for partnership in space applications, including space and ground tracking networks and data sharing, between industrialized countries and the developing countries.

4. Acts as an international information exchange mechanism for data, programs and plans pertaining to space applications and space/ground tracking networks.

5. Develops both the technical and the institutional framework for international interoperability to facilitate appropriate cross-support opportunities of space data systems.

6. Recognizes that technical documents appropriate for international data systems standardization purposes have been developed by other organizations and will utilize these existing documents if they have demonstrated their suitability by wide international acceptance. SC 13 will avoid developing new international standards when adequate standards exist. 6

The 31 standards completed to date by the subcommittee encompass a broad variety of topics, including Telemetry and Telecommand, Data Management, Space Communications, and Orbital Systems. 7

United States participation on the subcommittee is through the United States Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which has been accredited to that purpose by ANSI. The US TAG is administered by another ANSI accredited SSO, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA – not to be confused with the AIA, which supports both ISO TC20 and ISO TC20/SC-13). The stated mission of the US TAG is:

a) To represent the U.S. aerospace community in all matters pertaining to the U.S. technical advisory group to ISO/TC20/SC13.

b) To fulfill the functions and responsibilities of a TAG as set forth in its ANSI approved Operating Procedures.

c) To provide a U.S. forum to exchange ideas and viewpoints regarding international space standardization and to establish U.S. consensus on international issues.8

More specifically, the US TAG is chartered with the authority to appoint U.S. experts to serve on subcommittee working groups, determine and represent U.S. positions on draft standards, and make proposals on behalf of U.S.interests 9

     ISO TC 20/SC 14: Space Systems and Operations: The Secretariat of this subcommittee is once again ANSI, and the functional role is provided by the AIAA as secretary, which was accredited to this purpose by ANSI. As of this writing, the subcommittee comprises 11 participating and 6 observer members, and has issued 74 standards.

The subcommittee maintains formal liaison relationships with each of the organizations with which ISO TC 20/SC 13 maintains such ties, and, in addition, with several additional European aerospace organizations, the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA-astronautics) and the (impressively named and improbably acronymed) United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UN-OOSA) 10

The Scope of the subcommittee is defined as: “ Standardization for manned and unmanned space vehicles, their design, production, maintenance, operation, and disposal, and the environment in which they operate.” The subcommittee was founded in 1992, in recognition of the fact that:

The international demand for telecommunication capability, weather prediction, and navigation, in both the developed and developing nations has fostered an expanding commercial space marketplace that is highly competitive at both the system and component levels. International standards for expressing requirements as well as capabilities and the means of verifying performance are; therefore, essential to facilitate fair and equitable trade that will result in reliable commercial space systems. In addition, due to their ever-increasing costs, international collaboration on major civil space programs has become necessary and the norm. International Standards are therefore essential to ensure such programs can be reliably integrated in a cost-effective manner. 11

The subcommittee currently has 80 projects in process, operating under five working groups: Interfaces, Integration and Test; Operations and Ground Support; Space Environment (natural and artificial); Programme Management; and Materials and Processes.

The 74 standards completed to date by the subcommittee address subjects as diverse as Launch Site Operations; various safety standards; Fluid Characteristics, Sampling and Testing of multiple propellants; Surface Cleanliness; and Man-Systems Integration. 12

United States participation on the subcommittee is through a United States TAG administered by the AIAA under accreditation by ANSI. Its mission is similar to that of the ISO TC20/SC-13 TAG. 13

B. Agency Organizations: A limited number of organizations have been formed for the express purpose of providing coordination among, and standard setting by, the space agencies on a global or regional basis (participation by corporate members is also typically permitted). An example of the latter is the European Space European Cooperation for Space Standardization (ECSS) organization, the mission of which is “ to develop a coherent, single set of user-friendly standards for use in all European space activities” and the AIAA and AIA in the United States. The CCSDS (described next) is an example of the former.

     Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems: The CCSDS was formed in 1982 by the then-most advanced national space agencies for the purpose of developing standards in the area of space communications, and as an outgrowth of a joint NASA-European Space Agency working group that had been formed to facilitate “cross support” among space agencies (e.g., to permit leveraging the data handling services of all agencies in support of each others’ missions, as when an orbiting spacecraft is “handed off” like a cell phone call from one nation’s communications system to the next).

Currently, 28 nations participate in CCSDS activities, ten of which are full members, and eighteen of which participate as observer members. While over 100 commercial entities also participate as “industrial associates,”  the agency focus of CCSDS is indicated by the scope of its standard setting efforts: “a) to reduce the cost to the various agencies of performing common data functions by eliminating unjustified project-unique design and development, and b) promote interoperability and cross support among cooperating space agencies to reduce operations costs by sharing facilities. 14

In 2003, the technical organization of CCSDS was revised, using the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) as a model, in order to divide its activities into six “Areas:” Space Link Services; Space Internetworking Services; Spacecraft Onboard Interface Services; Cross Support Services; Mission Operations and Information Management Services; and System Engineering Services. Currently, there are 31 active working groups 15

As of this writing, the CCSDS has published 82 standards (“Recommendations”), reports, tutorials, and papers. 16 Through a cooperative agreement with ISO, CCSDS Recommendations are submitted to ISO through ISO TC20/SC-13 for consideration and adoption as ISO standards.

C. “National” Organizations: A number of SSOs that focus predominantly (e.g., the AIAA) or partially (e.g., the IEEE) on standards for space applications are nationally accredited SSOs. However, as is the case in many other technical domains, those described in this article each accept members from other nations as well. Coordination among these organizations occurs through a variety of means such as liaison relationships (e.g., between the ECSS and TC 20/SC-14) and through SSOs acting as the secretary of ISO committees and subcommittees (as is the case with the AIA and the AIAA) in order to keep standards in as close alignment as possible, and to avoid duplicative efforts. 17

     American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: The AIAA is an ANSI accredited SSO that accepts members from many nations. Besides operating as the US TAG for ISO TC/SC 13 and 14 and as the secretary for ISO TC/SC 14, the AIAA engages in extensive standard setting activities for space applications in its own right. Unlike a number of other SSOs that are predominantly involved in aviation standards and later branched into standards for space applications, the AIAA focuses predominately on space related needs, and addresses aviation issues only to the extent that its membership base believes that it can make unique contributions .

Unlike many SSOs that admit only public or private sector entities as members, the AIAA is a professional society with admits individual as its members, and performs a number of roles for its constituency besides standard setting. Consistent with that status, it relies on the expertise of individual members to develop the technical content of its offerings. Of course, those individuals most involved are usually serving at the direction of their employers, which include U.S. agencies (e.g., NASA, FAA and DoD) and foreign space agencies, such as the British National Space Center (BNSC), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Large numbers of professors and students from many countries are also members.

AIAA maintains liaison relationships with a variety of other SSOs and space agencies, both in its own right, as well as in its formal roles within ISO subcommittees.

AIAA currently has twelve active committees distributed within five groups (Aerospace Sciences, Information and Logistics, Propulsion, Space Systems, and Structures, Design and Test). To date, its active and now inactive groups have published 29 standards (“Guides”), reports and other documents. 18

One of AIAA’s most recent standards is one of the first to be completed with the input of the “next generation” of space participants. That standard is intended for use by the emerging reusable launch vehicle industry, 19 and was developed by a committee including representatives of not only large aerospace corporations such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, but also representatives of a number of the new entrepreneurial space companies that have sprung up in part in response to the X Prize competition (e.g., XCOR Aerospace, Kistler, TGV Rockets, and Andrews Space). Regulatory perspective was provided through the participation of representatives of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST).

II. Non-space SSOs with Space-Unique Activities

As telecommunications capabilities became more robust, orbiting platforms became more attractive as the foundation for commercial as well as scientific and military purposes. More recently, with the advent of the Internet and other technologies, additional commercial opportunities have arisen that have attracted various information technology SSOs to charter working groups to create new standards, or adapt existing standards or architectures to space-based use. Two examples of this type of activity follow.

     Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC): Since 1994, the OGC (an international open standards consortium) has been creating geographic information system standards and conducting testbeds and other activities intended to accelerate the development and utilization of GIS technology. Today, it has 284 commercial, government and university members. As of this writing, OGC has published sixteen specifications, and a variety of other published work product. 20Approximately 125 government, university, military, defense and technology vendor members have participated in space-relevant OGC activities. A core group of approximately 35 members represent the most consistent participants and contributors. 21

GIS data is increasingly gathered via satellite, and is crucial to a myriad of government as well as commercial uses. The importance of developing proper GIS standards is underscored by the fact that NASA provided pivotal funding to OGC in its early years, as well as credibility. NASA remains a “Strategic Member” of OGC today, meaning that it provides significant unique funding and support to OGC activities that it believes to be particularly significant.

Participation by other types of agencies is also broad, including NASA, NOAA, and USGS from the United Sates, as well as the European Space Agency, German Aerospace Center, European Commission and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) from abroad. National defense departments also figure prominently in the OGC membership, including (from the United States), the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Defense Modeling & Simulation Office (DMSO), Naval Research Laboratory, among others, and the European Union Satellite Centre and the Australian Department of Defense.

A NASA Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) provided initial funding to OGC beginning in December 1994. NASA¹s support was vital during the period when OGC was building critical mass in the industry. The NASA CAN program helped fund the creation of an effective OGC Specification Program process. Subsequently, NASA sponsored several OGC Interoperability Program activities, including the Web Mapping Testbed and several phases of the OGC Web Services (OWS) initiative.

OGC maintains formal liaison relationships with a number of other SSOs, including ISO TC211 for Geographic Information, the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society, International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS) and the NATO-affiliated Digital Geographic Information Working Group (DGIWG). OGC and other SSOs have also engaged in a variety of joint projects. An example is the OGC Earth Imagery Reference Model, which is also designated as ISO Project Team 19101-2, operating under ISO TC211. Less formal relationships are maintained with numerous other organizations and working groups.

The OGC Specification Program and Implementation Program conduct a number of activities relevant to space standards, including the following:

  • Earth Observation (EO) Working Group: chartered to gather requirements for EO specification developments.
  • The Image Exploitation Systems Working Group: several specifications pertaining to accessing and processing remotely sensed data; Earth Imagery Reference Model.
  • Sensor Web Enablement Working Group: addressing the use of all types of sensors, including space based sensors, as web accessible resources.
  • The OGC Web Mapping Testbed developed the OpenGIS® Web Coverage Service (WCS) which provides access to numerous types of space-based imagery in multiple data formats.
  • The OGC Web Services, Phase 2 (OWS-2): demonstrating improved ease of access to space based observations using NASA and Spot Image data.

Perhaps most intriguingly, an OGC Planetary Working Group has been approved to apply OGC technologies to mapping and investigating planets other than Earth.

     Object Management Group (OMG) Space Domain Task Force: 22
OMG is an international open standards consortium founded to create technical standards (which it refers to as specifications) to enable interoperability among enterprise application software. Members with broad architectural interests may join “horizontally” and participate in all activities, or “vertically” as “Domain Members” in the industry area that is of particular interest to them. OMG has c. 500 commercial, government and university members. The large number of members (for this type of SSO) is in part due to the availability of the Domain Membership option, which facilitates cost-effective participation by end-user entities as well as vendors. Currently, OMG supports 21 Domain subgroups, representing members in areas such as healthcare, telecommunications, robotics and finance (under its Domain Technical Committee) and 35 subgroups under its Platform Technology Committee. An Architecture Board ensures ongoing coherence among the output of these many subgroups 23

OMG maintains formal and informal liaison relationships with a number of organizations, including ISO/IEC (which have accepted three OMG specifications as standards through the Publicly Available Specification (PAS)) process, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and ANSI.

OMG has a very large catalog of specifications, profiles and other work product . 24

Its “flagship” specifications and platforms include the Model Driven Architecture (MDA) and the CORBA middleware platform. Its Domain Task Forces standardize “Domain Facilities” for their particular industries.

The OMG Space Domain Task Force (DTF) was established in late 1999. Its current goals include clarifying space, satellite and ground system requirements; encouraging the development and use of CORBA [a core OMG specification] based space, satellite and ground system domain software components; and encouraging the use of UML [an OMG specification] to describe the architectures of distributed space systems in a standard way.

A broad range of vendors and government agencies (both military and space) have been involved in the Space DTF from an early date. Both NASA and the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) are members of OMG and the Space DTF, and NASA is represented on the OMG Board of Directors.

Recently, the Space DTF announced the formal formation of a close liaison relationship with CCSDS, bringing closer alignment between the standards-based activities of space agencies and vendors. Under this relationship, the CCSDS will collocate most of its twice-yearly standards meetings with OMG Technical Meetings, which are held five times each year, and both organizations will work together on standards-setting projects. The first joint meeting was held in Athens, Greece, in March 2005.

The Space DTF’s output includes the recently adopted XML Telemetry and Telecommand Data specification, which is widely used and required in the industry. The current energies of the Space DTF are directed towards creating a “metamodel” for Space command languages, allowing standard tools to convert scripts from one language to another. The Space DTF cooperates internally with other OMG groups working in areas such as Software-defined Radio and security.

III. Space-relevant SSOs

The number of SSOs that produce standards that are relevant to the design, manufacture and operation of space systems are too numerous to mention. NASA, for example, actively tracks the standards of 50 SSOs, and participates in 30. Due to the multitude and breadth of SSOs in this category, a single example must suffice for purposes of this article.

     ASTM International (ASTM): ASTM was formally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, from which its current name derives. The shift in name acknowledges the fact that while ASTM is an ANSI-accredited SSO, it is one of the largest SSOs in the world, and draws its more than 30,000 individual members from more than 100 countries. It has been in existence for over a century, and has developed and maintains thousands of standards.

A large number of ASTM’s standards are relevant to the manufacture and testing of space vehicles and supporting infrastructure, and ASTM is therefore representative of the many traditional standards organizations that space agencies and vendors of aerospace materiel either participate in actively, or rely on passively for standards that they implement.

Recently, ASTM began moving into the aerospace area, when it chartered a new initiative called Committee F38 on Unmanned Aircraft Systems. 25 Its work includes development of standards for design and performance, manufacturing quality assurance, flight operations, and development and verification of vehicle software. Over 180 companies, agencies and universities are participating in this committee, with manufacturers and suppliers representing the largest group (38%), closely followed by government agencies, including NASA (34%). Representatives of universities, consultants and trade associations comprise the balance. 26

ASTM maintains liaison relationships with many organizations, with the specific ties relating to the subject matter in question. In the case of its aerospace activities, Committee F38 has established liaison relationships with the AIAA and the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA).

IV The Future

A. Challenges: While the aerospace industry is in some ways a mature industry technologically, the standards infrastructure that supports it is still not as complete and coordinated as many experts would prefer. Significant progress has been made in some respects (e.g., in developing the type of information and communications technology standards needed to enable the type of cross support between space agencies that CCSDS was formed to achieve), but coherence is still lacking in others.

     The European response: Due to the process of European unification, Europe took actions that preemptively addressed this issue more than a decade before it became critical in the space industry generally. The process of unification in Europe brought the realization that real progress on economic and industrial coordination would be dependent in part on breaking down the trade barriers that had been deliberately or inadvertently created by European nations in order to benefit their domestic industries. In clearing away these barriers a much more unified process of standard setting, and many new organizations for that purpose, were created.

One such organization is the European Cooperation for Space Standardization, which commenced joint creation of European space standards in 1993. Its mission is to:

[D]evelop a coherent, single set of user-friendly standards for the European space community, which means ESA, its member states and their space industry….By abolishing the multiplicity of project requirements of the various partners in ECSS, and concentrating on a single set of standards - from which all generic requirements of future space projects would be derived - this initiative should drive an increase in industrial efficiency. This policy will generate more recurring products or services, at reduced cost with consistently high quality. 27

Concurrently, the aerospace industry (both aviation as well as commercial launch) was also identified as an area for aggressive international competition by European industries through new collaborations such as Airbus and Arianespace. As a result, further incentives existed to maximize the efficient, multi-national use within Europe of the standards needed to cooperate and succeed in this endeavor.

The result of the formation of the ECSS and related initiatives, as well as the generally more centralized approach being taken in Europe in the aerospace industry, has been that Europe achieved a valuable head start over the United States on creating the type of centralized, coordinated environment in which necessary standards for space applications could be identified, developed and adopted.

     The American response: Historically, the United States standard system has been far more distributed than that which existed in any individual European nation. Consequently, while Europe was centralizing its space standards efforts, efforts in the U.S. were more disjointed and overlapping, and lacked any central management other than which existed as an indirect result of government (and particularly Department of Defense) procurement. Even at NASA, each of the eleven NASA Centers independently selected and utilized the standards that it chose to implement until less than ten years ago.

The increasing need for the United States to pursue a more coherent and effective aerospace standards policy has been well articulated in an extensive report issued in January of 2005, which is clearly mindful of the advantages being enjoyed by Europe as a result of a decade of increasingly unified activity. The report, titled “The Future of Aerospace Standardization," 28 was prepared under the auspices of the AIA for the Technical Operations Council and the Board of Governors of the AIAA by the eleven members of the Future of Aerospace Standardization Working Group, chaired by Laura Hitchcock of The Boeing Company. The authors included nine representatives of major aerospace vendors, plus a representative of the U.S. Defense Standardization Program Office, and one from the AIA.

The report examines aerospace standardization systems, processes and organizations in order to define the standards and standard systems the authors deem to be necessary to support the continued and future growth of the aerospace industry. Each of its eight chapters (some of which address broad topics, such as “vision” and some of which cover specific industry sectors, such as defense) includes a specific recommendation for needed action. The final chapter is entitled “Space – a Growing Role for Standards.”

The scope of the report is broad, and its tone is urgent. As stated in the Executive Summary:

It is believed that this report represents the most comprehensive evaluation of aerospace standardization ever undertaken. If the Working Group’s conclusions are correct, then inaction is perilous for virtually all stakeholders of [sic] aerospace industry – primes, every tier of supplier, customers, both civil and defense, standards developers, and those who rely on the quality, safety, and reliability of the products the aerospace industry produces. It is imperative, therefore, that action be swift, and that it be directed from the very highest levels of industry and government. The actions need to be led from the executive suite and implementation guided by the senior VP level

Echoing some of the concerns that the ECSS was formed to address, the report notes that the aerospace industry (aviation and space) utilizes hundreds of thousands of standards created by almost 150 different SSOs worldwide. In consequence, the report concludes that very significant benefits could be gained by rationalizing and consolidating this vast system, and “identifying a suite of universally accepted standards which contains little to no duplication." 30 Echoing a desire heard more and more frequently in diverse standards sectors, the report also calls for a central registry of relevant standards.

Similarly, the report notes that unless a “leadership organization” capable of providing a central forum and point of integration within which U.S. based efforts can be coordinated and integrated, “an ever increasing percentage of the technical data that supports our industry will be developed in venues controlled by foreign aerospace industry." 31 At the same time, the report also calls for global implementation of the most appropriate standards, and a more effective global conformity assessment system. 32

The tone of the report turns almost bleak when it turns to standards for the U.S. space industry, calling the level of standardization “minimal,” and repeatedly citing Europe favorably for its success in addressing most of the problems that the report highlights for U.S. curative action.

While the report notes that the reusable, non-military vehicles are expected to begin to be developed at some point in the future, it also stresses that commercial launches using existing systems have been essentially flat for four years, and little significant improvement is forecast before 2013 for this industry segment. 33 In the face of this lack of increasing market opportunity, the report finds both lack of initiative on the part of U.S. industry, and also increasing risk of loss of what business is available to Europe, which already dominates the commercial launch marketplace.

The report finds that most existing consensus based standards relate to safety issues, while most other parameters are still defined by military specifications or other customer-unique requirements. As noted above, the report notes that while a broad base of standards is in use that are either repurposed, or adapted from, aviation standards, there are still far too few space-unique standards in areas such as propulsion, vehicles interfaces, payload vehicle interfaces, and ground support equipment (some of which, the report notes, Europe has already developed). As a result, the report concludes that “The space industry has clearly not yet recognized the benefits of standardization in these areas,..." 34

As a result of waning U.S. commercial power, the report suggests:

Without an integrated approach to US space standardization, it will be difficult for US space commerce interests to present integrated input to any International space standardization activity. At the most, US space industry interests seeking business opportunities outside the US will be forced to conform to standards being developed without active participation, most likely resulting in a competitive disadvantage. 35 [emphasis added]

The situation could become further exacerbated if China elects to draw closer to Europe, rather than the U.S., as it pursues its own aggressive space program and becomes more involved in space standards development.

The authors of the report show particular concern over the lead taken by Europe over the United States as a result of its centralized standard-setting infrastructure, concluding:

Europe, with the European Space Agency (ESA) and The European Cooperation for Space Standardization (ECSS) has taken the lead in developing standards for space activities including standardization for project management, product assurance and engineering activities for the entire European space community. Without a clear strategy and support from industry and government space agencies, the US is in the process of ceding the development of standards for the commercial space industry to venues outside of our influence 36

In its concise recommendation relating to the space industry, the report therefore concludes that NASA, the DoD and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA):

[U]rgently need to work together to ensure the development of globally recognized standards that support both government and commercial space interests. Development and use of industry standards that support US based technology must be a key strategic component of the aerospace industry’s standardization strategy. 37

B. Opportunities: One of the major shifts to be anticipated in the future will be the proliferation of companies that are not dependent upon government, or government supported, launch systems. While this industry is in its infancy, commencement of suborbital adventure travel is imminent, albeit on a limited and wildly expensive basis. As these efforts, as well as commercial ventures directed at lowering the per-pound cost of placing payloads into orbit, become more serious, new entrants into standard setting, as well as the need for new types of standards (e.g., for high-strength composite materials) can be expected to increase.

New satellite-based applications and increased use of satellite based data and services may also be expected to proliferate. When invited to identify some of the most interesting opportunities for space standardization in this area, George Percivall, Executive Director, Interoperability Architecture for OGC, offered the following as examples:

Three challenges in dealing with space-based data are access, encoding formats, and value-added processing. Standards reduce these challenges.

Access to space-based data has been difficult as imagery typically has been in off-line archives in unique formats. Further, remote sensed data has not been traditionally represented as geographic information, making it difficult to integrate space-based data with other sources. Recent advances in geospatial standards…[will enable] moving space imagery to on-line servers [which] will enable ready access of terabytes of earth imagery to large numbers of users.

The ready accessibility of earth imagery data is welcome progress, but it is also necessary that users will be able to extract the information relevant to their interest. Space-based remote sensed imagery is huge in data size but may provide little information to the user until it is processed by complex algorithms. OGC has demonstrated scripting of this processing that can be set up by a subject matter expert in remote sensing and then executed by analysts and decision makers with less experience with remote sensed data...38

V. Conclusions

Fifty years following the advent of the space industry, and 26 years after man first walked on the moon, the state of standardization for space applications is at something of a crossroads, and particularly so for U.S. industry.

In some respects, global standards are adequate, but this is true only where the need has been most urgent (as with space agency mission cross support) or where an existing base of aviation standards existed that could be used or adapted to space industry usage. In most space-unique areas, however, standards exist largely in the form of military specifications and (increasingly) European-origin form.

At the same time, the space industry is largely stagnant, due in large part to the perpetually high cost of putting payloads into orbit (c. US $10,000 per pound). Development of a common and comprehensive suite of standards is one of the few non-revolutionary methods that can be utilized to significantly reduce this cost, thereby offering the hope for wider commercial opportunities.

In another example of a crossroads, the United States, which had gained undisputed leadership in the space industry by the culmination of the Apollo program, is in danger of being supplanted in that role (at least in the ongoing commercial marketplace) by Europe. Leadership in setting the global standards urgently needed by the industry may therefore go by default to Europe unless the warnings of the Future of Aerospace Standardization report are heeded and acted upon by U.S. stakeholders.

The status of space standardization as described in this article, then, is one of both potential and concern. In the plus column, there are hundreds of organizations around the world that are capable of creating the standards needed, provided that they are motivated by their members to do so. And in the negative column could be placed the same statement. Much good work has been done, and many useful liaison relationships formed, but there are too many organizations doing too little work, with too much redundancy, and too little attention in some of the most critical areas.

Clearly, if the current administration in the United States is serious about its commitment to reinvigorate the U.S. space program, it would do well to heed the advice of The Future of Aerospace Standardization. If the actions recommended in that report were put into practice, it would represent one of the lowest cost, highest reward strategies that could be employed to achieve the new goals assigned to NASA within available budgets, and maintain the historic leadership that America has provided in the past in the pursuit of discovery and commercial activity in space.

Comments? Email:

Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove


1. The author is indebted to the following individuals, each of whom was interviewed in connection with this article: Paul Gill, Technical Standards Manager, NASA; Craig Day, Program Manager, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; George Percivall, Executive Director, Interoperability Architecture, Open Geospatial Consortium; Jon Seigel, Vice President, Technology Transfer, Object Management Group; and Pat Picariello, Director, Developmental Operations, ASTM International.

2. The report may be found here.

4. ISO TC 20 summary information page. The current business plan for this committee, which contains a useful overview of the aerospace industry and a segmentation of that industry, may be found here.

5. ISO information page for ISO TC/SC 13

6. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics ISO TC 20/SC 13 U.S. TAG information page

7. The full list of standards may be found here.

8. AIAA,

9. The full charter may be found in the Operating Procedures for the TAG, here.

10. ISO information page for ISO TC/SC 14

11. ISO TC20/SC-14 Business Plan Executive Summary, page 1 (October 14, 2004)

12. The full list of standards may be found here.

13. See AIAA ISO 20/SC-14 US TAG page

14. A concise and helpful history of CCSDS may be found at:

15. A diagram showing all working groups by Area may be found at

16. The complete list of published material may be viewed at: The interrelation of CCSDS standards is graphically represented at:

17. Other SSOs in this category with significant activities supporting space applications include the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

18. For a complete list, see

19. Guide to the Identification of Safety-Critical Hardware Items for Reusable Launch Vehicle Developers

20. Published specifications may be found at:

21. Interview with George Percivall, Executive Director, OGC Interoperability Architecture.

22. The home page of the Task Force may be found at:

23. The full OMG committee and subgroup structure may be viewed at:

24. The full catalog of OMG published specifications may be accessed at:

25. The committee’s home page may be found at:

26. Interview with Pat Picariello, Director, Developmental Operations, ASTM International.

27. Kriedte, K., A New Approach to European Space Standards, ESA Bulletin Nr. 81 (February 1005), at:

28. Hitchcock, Laura et al., The Future of Aerospace Standardization, AIA (January 2005).

29. Ibid., page vi.

30. Ibid., page viii.

31. Ibid., page ix .

32.Other recommendations less relevant to this article include the need for better infrastructural tools for standard setting, and more assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense in moving military specifications into the voluntary consensus standards system for development of industry-wide standards. See report, pp. xiii and xiv.

33. Ibid., page 46

34. Ibid., page 47

35. Ibid., page 49

36. Ibid., page xv.

37. Ibid.

38. Interview with George Percivall




Andrew Updegrove

Abstract: The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) maintains a diverse and extensive program of research, development, and testing that enables dramatic scientific, robotic and manned missions into earth orbit and beyond. These activities involve the use of over 3,400 standards derived from more than 50 standard setting organizations through a network of 11 major NASA Centers, and many additional supporting facilities. Until recently, each of these Centers was free to develop and adopt standards on a largely independent basis, most of which were government-unique. Over the past decade, NASA has increasingly transitioned from using government standards to using private sector standards, and the approval and management of standards within NASA has been placed under central authority. Today, NASA’s use of standards is controlled by a unique Standards Management System that maximizes efficiency and safety, and coordinates efforts across the Agency. This article briefly reviews this transformation, and then reproduces an in-depth interview with Paul Gill, Manager of the NASA Technical Standards Program, who answers questions relating to all aspects of NASA’s use of standards, and its participation in the international standard setting process.

Introduction: NASA lives at the intersection of a number of worlds. There is the world of its own complex, encompassing research, development and testing centers, assembly and launch facilities, and administrative headquarters, all dedicated to performing highly exacting and unique tasks in the unforgiving spotlight of the press. Outside this immediate world lies the orbit of the myriad contractors that provide the vehicles that perform the actual missions, and then the realm of the space agencies of other nations with which NASA increasingly collaborates. There is also the academic world of the universities that supply experiments and other payloads, and that of the Department of Defense (DoD), which is partially dependent on NASA’s capabilities to accomplish its own programs.

And then there is the much more vast stage upon which play out the missions that are the heart and soul of NASA: manned missions into earth orbit, Great Observatories that peer into the depths of the cosmos to the very beginning of time, orbiting platforms that probe the secrets of our own planet, and increasingly sophisticated robotic missions to explore the planets and moons of our solar system, as well as comets and asteroids that visit from greater distances.

Finally, there is the world of those that scrutinize, criticize and (sometimes grudgingly) fund NASA: the press, you and I, and Congress. NASA operates under the type of public spotlight and microscope that immediately identify and magnify every failure and shortfall, but too often fail to report and applaud properly the many successes, large and small, that have been hard-earned by those that engage on our behalf in the pursuit of space exploration.

One of the tools employed by NASA to operate in such a fault intolerant environment is a carefully devised and deployed standards program which could profitably serve as a model for private industry. This system, designed and deployed in the last decade, provides a unified and cohesive regime of standards analysis, selection, development, cataloging and deployment. It also enables gathering and archiving lessons learned in the process of standards development and utilization, and makes them available to guide future efforts.

This article describes that system and its operations, and features a lengthy interview with Paul Gill, the NASA Technical Standards Program Manager. We begin by summarizing some of the hallmarks of the NASA standards system, and then follow with the complete text of the interview.

NASA Overview: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more familiarly known as NASA, was created by Congress in 1958 as the successor to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which in turn had been created in 1915. The reconstitution of NACA to support missions into space was partially in response to the launch by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957 of Sputnik, an event that caught the United States famously unprepared to match the capabilities of its arch Cold War rival.

At its commissioning, NASA was somewhat vaguely charged by Congress: “ to provide for research into the problems of flight within and outside the Earth's atmosphere, and for other purposes." Its initial mission, however, was clear: to catch up, and surpass, the Soviets in the conquest of space. Over time, with the end of the Cold War and successive changes of administrations, NASA’s mission was fundamentally modified on several occasions, and less dramatically altered on a more frequent basis. Today, its self-espoused mission is: “to understand and protect our home planet, to explore the universe and search for life, and to inspire the next generation of explorers” to which is wistfully added, ”... as only NASA can.”

Most recently, NASA has been called upon to transform itself in response to two challenging demands: first, to trace and resolve the issues that led to the Columbia tragedy, and second to fulfill the Bush administration’s mandate to return to the moon, establish a base there, and then send a manned mission to Mars. Either of these challenges would be challenging in isolation, especially given the Agency’s budgetary constraints and the many unmanned scientific projects that NASA also has in process.

The scope of completing these tasks is magnified by the breadth of the NASA system, which comprises 11 NASA Centers, as well as the many additional facilities that NASA owns or works with around the country and the world in order to design, build, launch and monitor its missions. Some of these Centers, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (managed by the California Institute of Technology, or CALTECH), Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center are familiar to all, while others are less in the public eye, such as NASA’s Ames, Dryden and Langley Research Centers. Until recent years, each of these Centers was free to develop and adopt standards independently.


Transformation: The United States Government has been urging its agencies to become increasingly involved in the development and utilization of private sector consensus based standards for some time, most decisively with the passage of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (NTTAA) and the subsequent revision by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of its Circular A-119 in 1998 (see, A Work in Progress: Government Support for Standard Setting in the United States 1085 – 2004 ) Concurrent with the progress of the NTTAA through Congress, the Defense Department was proceeding with its own “MilSpec Reform” initiative, which had similar goals.

Under the NTTAA, the government agencies are required to use private sector standards in lieu of “government unique” specifications wherever feasible, and to report to Congress on their progress in doing so on an annual basis. OMB Circular A-119,supplies more explicit advice, and permits the agencies to use not only the standards created by accredited standards development organizations (SDOs), but also those created by non-accredited consortia, and as necessary, even proprietary, de facto standards.

The issuance of OMB Circular A-119 in revised form roughly coincided with a complementary initiative within NASA to rationalize its usage of standards. That initiative was led by the Chief Engineer of NASA at the instruction of then NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin. Under that initiative, a new Technical Standards Program was launched, which now manages all standards activities at all NASA Centers, bringing such activities under a single point of supervision for the first time. This central control (among other benefits) permits all standards to be centrally indexed for better usage by all Centers, as well as enables better coordination of which standards are in use, where the most appropriate standards can be obtained, and how standard setting organizations, both accredited and non-accredited (SSOs) can most efficiently be motivated to develop the new standards that NASA needs to execute its mission.

The result has been a gradual decrease in usage by NASA of government-unique MIL-SPECS/STDS and a matching increase in its use of private sector standards. While that transition has not been as complete as in some other government agencies, nonetheless approximately 54% of all standards utilized by NASA over the past four years were derived from the private sector. The balance are MilSpecs (25.84%), NASA unique (Center Developed – 10.31% or NASA Preferred – 5.54%), or other government standards (4.39%) (see Appendix B).

As of this writing, NASA’s standards program has adopted (or is in the process of adopting) some 3,400 standards, only 60 of which were developed by NASA internally for Agency-wide use (although there are other Center-unique standards in use as well). The process of transitioning to the fullest practicable use of private sector standards is continuing. In furtherance of that goal, almost 140 NASA employees take part in the standards development work of more than 30 SSOs today.

Management innovation: The restructuring of the NASA standards program has also led to the creation of an internal Standards Management System that would be the envy of most private companies. This system provides NASA with a superior ability to plan, deploy and track its participation in standard setting and utilization of standards, and includes databases:

  • that record the name of each NASA employee that participates in an SSO. The database is accessible to all other NASA employees, thus avoiding duplication, and increasing the ability of NASA to leverage the benefits of participation in SSOs.
  • into which standards-related “lessons learned” throughout the Centers are logged, in order to maximize the value of experiences gained throughout the NASA system. The result has been increased quality control, and augmented efficiency.
  • that track the status of every standard that NASA is helping develop, is interested in, or has already adopted.

The Interview: Our interview with Mr. Gill is divided into several main topics and a variety of subtopics, collectively covering the history, external collaboration, internal management, and other aspects of the NASA standards program, beginning with an Overview of the program.

I. Internal Operations

A. Overview

CSB: How did you come to work at NASA?

PSG: I joined NASA after I graduated from Tuskegee University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. My early career was focused in the area of automated process applications in materials. About 8 years ago I joined the NASA Technical Standards Program of which I became Manager in 1999.

CSB: Are there any important ways in which the development of space application standards is different than standard setting for atmospheric aeronautic standards?

PSG: There are a lot of similarities. I suspect the most important differences are in terms of standards being developed to accommodate the hostile environments in which space vehicles must operate versus aircraft. Also, the demands associated with designs for one of a kind mission contribute to the differences.

CSB: What has the historical involvement of NASA been in standard setting?

PSG: Originally, most of the standards used by NASA were MIL-SPECS/STDS or developed by a specific NASA Center for their own use. With the exception of a few standards having to do with safety, essentially none were “agency wide standards.” NASA also used standards developed by organizations such as SAE [ed: Society of Automotive Engineers, which also sets aeronautics standards], ASTM [American Society of Testing and Materials], IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers] , etc. and participated in many of the standards developing efforts of these organizations, as it does today.

Currently, NASA has only about 60 NASA developed unique standards designated for agency wide use. The rest are standards developed primarily by DoD and non-government organizations, both national and international. In addition, the Agency still uses Center developed unique standards that have been produced to meet the requirements of programs and projects assigned to them. (This is in the range of several 1000 documents.) These we are currently endeavoring to transform to agency-wide standards where appropriate. With the establishment of the NASA Technical Standards Program in the mid-1990s, this has been a priority objective.

B. Program Coverage

CSB: What facilities and entities are covered by the Technical Standards Program?

PSG: The NASA Technical Standards Program encompasses all the NASA Centers, NASA HQ, and JPL [the Jet Propulsion Laboratory] plus their allied facilities. Thus it is an “Agency wide” endeavor in support of all the Agency’s programs and projects.

CSB: How many different types of standards does the program cover?

PSG: Basically the Program addresses Standards, including specifications and handbooks, as they apply to the needs of the Agency for standards products. This encompasses all areas of engineering, including safety, information technology, data systems, etc.

CSB: How many different technical areas does the NASA standards program cover?

PSG: The Program covers eleven categories of standards. The listing is provided in Appendix A.

CSB: How many standards are included in the program today?

PSG: Currently there are over 3,400 NASA Preferred Technical Standards that have been either developed by the Agency or are non-NASA developed standards, including DoD, that have been “adopted” or pending adoption for use by the Agency. Of these standards only about 60 are currently NASA unique developed standards.

CSB: What percentage of the standards that you work with are “space unique,” as compared to general engineering standards (e.g., screw threads), and general aeronautical standards?

PSG: Only a small percent are “space unique”, mainly those developed by the Agency, AIAA, CCSDS, plus some standards developed by other organizations. However, there is a large percentage of Center and Program developed standards that are used by the Agency’s programs and projects.

CSB: What areas of standards that are not unique to space are of greatest interest to NASA (e.g., GIS standards) in performing its missions, as compared to building its vehicles and instruments?

PSG: Based on our metrics on standards usage, it would be standards associated with materials. Of the 3400+ NASA Preferred Technical Standards, approximately 45% are Materials Discipline oriented.

C. Scope and Structure

CSB: What is the scope of the NASA Technical Standards Program?

PSG: There is an agency wide Technical Standards Program that encompasses not only the development of NASA unique standards products, but also provides the Agency with a “one stop, one-shop” source for standards, plus a source for locating standards related engineering lessons learned and applications notes on experiences in the use of a particular standard. In addition, a key objective of the Program is to improve engineering practices in the design and development practices for use on the Agency’s programs and projects.

CSB: It appears that NASA is a standards world in microcosm, in part because it is a unique end user, in part because it does things that only a few other countries can do today, and in part because it is at the top of its own pyramid of contractors and facilities. Would you tell us how you and others at NASA went about designing your own standards system?

PSG: To a large degree, your assessment is correct. The key to the design of the NASA Technical Standards Program was the attention given by the Administrator and the NASA Chief Engineer. This was important. The other major element that produced the viable program we have today is the NASA Technical Standards Working Group. This Group consists of a senior representative from each NASA Center, JPL, and several NASA HQ offices. They provide the necessary interfaces and guidance for the Program. Finally, the NASA Engineering Management Board provides oversight on the Program and its actions. Most recently, as a result of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations concerning the Agency having an independent Technical Authority, the delegation of responsibilities to Discipline Technical Warrant Holders has been a new development relative to enhancing the value and use of technical standards on NASA programs and projects.

CSB: Tell us about the structure of your program.

PSG: The structure of the NASA Technical Standards Program consists of the following major elements: (1) Development of NASA unique standards, (2) Adoption of non-NASA developed standards, (3) Agency wide Technical Standards System, and (4) the integration of engineering lessons learned and application notes on standards usage with appropriate technical standards.

The Agency establishes Engineering Standards Topic Working Groups to assist in the development of standards. It relies on the NASA Technical Standards Working Group for reviews of standards, coordination of Center involvements, etc. Thus, the Program is an integrated activity within the Agency. All of the Program’s activities are conducted within the scope of the NASA Chief Engineer’s responsibilities.

About a year ago we implemented a technical standards system usage survey. Currently it shows the following usage of the standards: (1) Requirements for Program/Project Development--24%, (2) In-House R&D (Including Design, Analysis, Testing, Etc.)—29%, (3) Verification of a Contractor’s Processes on Programs/projects—17%, (4) Acquisition of Parts or Materials—9%, (5) Evaluation of Proposal(s)—3%, (6) Education and Training—12%, and (7) Other uses—6%. These metrics on standards usage have provided NASA management with a better insight into the value of standards to the Agency.

D. Transformation

CSB: How did things operate before all NASA locations were placed under the same standards program?

PSG: Basically each NASA Center operated its own standards activity, using other government agency standards, those of non-government organizations, and developing their own standards to meet their specific requirements. At times, one Center would utilize the standards developed by other Centers where they met their needs.

CSB: What (or who) led to the formation of the Technical Standards Program? Did the Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 play a role?

PSG: The leadership for the formation of the NASA Technical Standards Program was by the NASA Chief Engineer, based on a directive issued in 1997 by the Administrator. With the advent of the Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995, additional emphasis had been placed on the use by NASA of non-government standards and this emphasis continues today.

CSB: What were the major goals that the new way of doing things was intended to achieve? What problems was it intended to solve?

PSG: The major goal was to encourage the use of non-NASA standards where practical in the design, development, and operations of NASA programs. The exception being where a unique NASA requirement could not be met by the use of non-government standards. Then NASA would develop the necessary standard, sometimes in collaboration with a non-government standards developing organization. Also, NASA encouraged the participation of its employees in the committees responsible for the development of non-NASA standards. For example, we have nearly 140 NASA employees participating in the committees responsible for the development of non-government standards in standards developing organizations, both national and international.

CSB: Was the NASA transformation typical of what was going on in other agencies at the same time, or was it unique?

PSG: In 1994, the DoD instituted MilSpec Reform which was a major undertaking as you are aware. While not the same type of a transformation as was going on within NASA as it moved from a Center focused to an Agency focused standards program, some of the activities of the DoD initiative had similar effects.

CSB: What things were you able to do that an industry organization with many members might not be able to accomplish?

PSG: Probably the integration and linking of engineering lessons learned and application notes on standards usage to specific standards so the information would be readily available to NASA employees is the most obvious example. This has been an important accomplishment in that it has added to the number of NASA employees that have been made aware of engineering lessons learned in their area of work. In addition, it has provided a timely input on engineering experiences that have a bearing on the use of a particular standard plus provided information for use in the improvement of that standard.

E. Infrastructure and Management

CSB: I’m intrigued by the Standards Management System. How did that come to be developed, and how has it worked?

PSG: The Agency’s Standards Management System mainly consists of the elements necessary to maintain a current status on all NASA standards under development, being processed for adoption, incorporation of engineering lessons learned links, provisions for NASA employees to propose new standards for development or adoption, maintaining databases on NASA employees participating in non-NASA standards developing organizations, national and international. One of the key elements of the NASA Technical Standards Program is the participation of Agency employees in the standards developing activities of about thirty non-NASA standards developing bodies.

CSB: What changes have you made since you launched the program?

PSG: I guess the most significant change has been to institute an Agency-wide awareness of the Program and its products. The metrics maintained for the Program illustrate the dramatic effect of this initiative. Second has been the proactive encouragement on the use of the Standard Update Notification System which keep Agency employees informed when changes or updates occur on a standard they are using. This System has become a very important asset for the Agency. All procurements with a value of over $5M must have the standards specified registered in the Standards Update Notification to ensure they are current and notifications on changes are received in a timely manner. Changes to standards being used on a program/project can have major impacts on the safety, performance, reliability, and costs. Using out-of-date standards also exposes programs/projects to the risk of repeating those failures that led to the update of the standard.

F. Achievements

CSB: In what ways is the Standards Program essential to completing NASA’s mission?

PSG: The Program functions under a directive issued by the Administrator as an integral part of the NASA Chief Engineer’s Office reflects the importance of the NASA Technical Standards Program to the Agency’s Mission. This responsibility is met through the elements of the Program I previously mentioned.

CSB: What are some of the things that you’re particularly proud of?

PSG: I suppose it would be primarily the development of a unique Integrated Technical Standards Initiative. It consists of these elements integrated into one system: (1) Agency wide Full-Text Technical Standards System, (2) Standards Update Notification System, and (3) Engineering Lessons Learned/Application Notes Linked to Technical Standards.

Another accomplishment was the Standards Awareness Initiative since it made essentially all of the Agency’s engineering staff aware of the Program’s products. Also, the pursuit of non-NASA developed standards for adoption as NASA Preferred Technical Standards. They now represent about 98% of the total number of NASA Preferred Technical Standards. In addition, we put in place an extensive metrics capability for the Program products, which has enabled managers in the Agency to become more aware on the importance and usage of technical standards. One of the results of these metrics was the revelation that NASA-developed standards are one of the top five downloads in the Agency out of the 110 standard developing bodies products available.

G. Lessons Learned

CSB: What have you learned (good and bad) that other standards development organizations could benefit from? How about other government agencies?

PSG: On the good side, I suppose learning and appreciating the importance of providing one’s “customers” what they need and in a timely manner. As for the bad, the thing that comes to mind is the problems we have experienced due to the lack of a common index of all SDO developed technical standards that is kept current and available to all users.

A few SDOs have had exclusive licenses with suppliers and that has sometimes created difficulties integrating them into our Integrated Technical Standards System. One must keep in mind that SDOs are basically “monopolies” with respect to the standards they produce. It is not like the user has several sources for the same standard they need. Overlap between SDOs is minimal as you know.

Obtaining feedbacks to the degree we would like on experiences from the users of standards within the Agency is another good lesson learned but we would like to see more feedbacks and are increasing our efforts in this regard.

H. Traumatic Events

CSB: Did the Challenger disaster in 1986 have an impact on standards programs at NASA? Were any new standards programs instituted in response, or changes made to existing protocols?

PSG: The Challenger disaster created an environment whereby all aspects of the design and development of space related hardware and systems were reviewed. Standards were no exception. There were no significant changes that I recall in existing standards used by the Agency, but I am sure some of the lessons learned were utilized in updates to some standards, both those developed by NASA and those by non-government organizations.

CSB: Did the more recent loss of Columbia result in any changes or new decisions? Have standards been viewed as a way to make future missions safer?

PSG: The loss of Columbia and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s recommendations regarding standards becoming an important element of the independent Technical Authority within the Agency is probably the most significant recent development. As a result, standards have become more recognized in terms of importance for future mission’s safety. This recognition has led to the Agency undertaking an initiative to identify “Core Standards” for various disciplines so they can be readily addressed in the development of new flight missions/projects. The core standard would reflect standards that are deemed important in a disciplinary area and must be considered by the program/project, thus ensuring their contents will not be overlooked in establishing design and development requirements.

The Columbia tragedy also resulted in some new standards-related work, including] a number of new and updated testing and ET insulation process matters and practices. However, these are part of the manufacturing activities and have not yet come under Agency Standards documents as part of the NASA Technical Standards Program. Just what specific changes were made, I am not aware.

II. External Operations

A. Participation by non-employees

CSB: Are contractors involved in your internal standards program, or do they only implement the NASA-unique standards that you create?

PSG: Yes, NASA’s contractors, especially its support contractors, are involved in the NASA Technical Standards Program activities. Feedback from its prime contractors also plays a role in the Program.

CSB: If they are involved, how does that work? Is their participation elective, encouraged or required?

PSG: The involvement of support contractors are through the respective Center’s contract processes. Their participation is both elective and encouraged; however, it is not a “required” involvement unless included in a contract scope assignment.

CSB: Do any standards development organizations (SDOs or consortia) participate in any way with your internal program, or does collaboration with them only occur when NASA representatives attend their meetings?

PSG: Collaboration essentially occurs when NASA representatives attend the meeting of SDOs or their standards developing committees. However, over 50 non-NASA standards developing organizations are involved in the Agency wide Technical Standards System by providing access to their standards products for use by the Agency on its programs and products.

B. Other government agencies

CSB: What is the interplay between defense applications and NASA applications? Does the Air Force, for example, participate fully in your programs, and/or the Defense Department, or is it just NASA?

PSG: NASA has a long-standing record of collaborating with the Air Force in the area of space applications and we share our standards developments with them as they do with us. Exchanges on applications of mutual interest are achieved either directly or via our mutual participations in the various non-government standards developing organizations. NASA is a very significant user, for example, of MIL-SPECS/STDS in the design and development of its launch vehicles and spacecraft.

CSB: How much do you work directly with other agencies?

PSG: We have not had any significant involvements with other Agencies relative to space standards activities other than the Department of Defense (DoD).

CSB: What other U.S. government agencies are involved in space standards, if any (e.g., NIST)?

PSG: The primary involvement is by the (DoD) with, recently, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration.

C. International Collaboration

CSB: Interoperability with other space programs dates back (at least) to the celebrated Apollo-Soyuz docking mission in July of 1975. Would you give us a brief history of how things proceeded from that starting point?

PSG: The Apollo-Soyuz docking mission produced the need for common interfaces between the two spacecraft and their associated elements. This need produced awareness for accommodating standards that would meet the needs of other nations. This resulted in the generation of common interfaces and standards, where needed, for use on the International Space Station and Space Shuttle. International standards emphasis has been one of the spin-offs of the interactions between the various nations having mutual space program interests.

CSB: What impact on interoperability standards strategy and programs did the beginning of the International Space Station have?

PSG: The International Space Station, with its many partners, reinforced the need for interoperability standards and, thus, international standards acceptable to all partners.

CSB: Which national space agencies are most involved in developing space standards? Which are the leaders?

PSG: I believe the United States would be considered the leader, with Russia, France, Japan, and now China beginning to provide inputs.

CSB: Which space agencies does NASA interact with the most?

PSG: Through NASA's participation in the ISO TC20, SC13 and SC14 standards developing activities, we interact with essentially all the other national space agencies to some degree. However, as you might suspect, most of our interactions are with the Europe, Russia, and Japan space agencies.

CSB: Does every country more or less see things the same way?

PSG: Not necessarily. Each country has its own interests and needs. The European Community reflects the consolidated view of almost all European countries. In an international standards developing endeavor, each tries to put forth the respective interests of their country, which is understandable. To my knowledge, this has not created any significant problem for NASA with respect to its collaborative relations with other countries.

D. Participation in SSOs

CSB: Please describe in overview the relationship between government agencies and private industry in your area of standards development (e.g., are the agencies the leaders or the followers)?

PSG: With regard to the area of space standards, there is a good relationship between the government agencies and private industry. However, I would say for space specific standards, NASA’s direct and indirect involvements create the momentum for private industry actions at this time. As access to space becomes more focused with non-government endeavors, as has been the case with the aviation industry for example, I would expect to see a stronger industry leadership develop.

CSB: Which standards bodies are involved in setting standards that are unique to space applications?

PSG: The primary SSOs involved in setting standards that are “unique” to space applications as their primary function include:

  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AAIA)
  • United States Technical Advisory Group to the International Standardization Subcommittee for Space Data and Information Transfer Systems (ISO TC20/SC13)
  • United States Technical Advisory Group to the International Standardization Subcommittee for Space Systems and Operations (ISO TC20/SC14)
  • Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS)

In addition, SAE, ASTM, AIA, ASME, and the Institute of Electrical Engineering in particular, all have significant standards developing efforts that support unique space applications.

CSB: Which non-government voluntary consensus standards organizations do you look to most?

PSG: Please see Appendix B for a table of the SDOs whose standards products the Agency uses most according to our metrics over the past four years.

CSB: Which organizations does NASA participate in, and how many personnel participate in SDOs and consortia?

PSG: Please see Appendix C for a table providing a summary of this information.

CSB: How often are existing SDOs and consortia not interested or qualified to undertake a new development project that you need to see get underway? Is this increasing or decreasing? Are there some areas where the absence of interested and qualified organizations is particularly problematic?

PSG: Most all SDOs will undertake the development of a new space related standard if sponsored to do so or if they ascertain there is an adequate “market” for the standards within the aerospace industry. For example, the Air Force recently sponsored the AIAA to develop five standards they need. So far, NASA has not sponsored the development of a space unique standard by a SDO. However, as noted earlier we are participants with a large number of SDOs in the development of standards having interest to NASA programs and projects.

CSB: Have you ever been involved with helping to start a new non-governmental standard setting organization?

PSG: NASA was involved in helping the AIAA, CCSDS, ISO TC20 SC13 and SC14 get their standard developing programs started and continues to support them.

CSB: Are there some things that you think non-governmental standards developers could do better?

PSG: I believe having an open access to their standards products via a common index containing all the SDO standards products would help all users. Pricing is another matter that is not consistent among the SDOs.

III. The Future

A. Private enterprise

CSB: Have any of the new private space ventures begun participating in standards efforts?

PSG: Not to my knowledge. However, I would be surprised if some of their employees were not involved in some SDO standards developing committees.

CSB: Do you expect that NASA will learn useful things from these efforts (e.g., regarding composites) that might result in new standards?

PSG: In all probability, I believe we will.

B. Trends and Challenges

CSB: What trends, challenges and issues do you see on the horizon for space standards?

PSG: More international collaboration will certainly develop. Challenges will be blending national interests into international interests, to the benefit of all concerned.

CSB: Is the existing global standard setting infrastructure up to the demands that you see ahead? If not, what’s missing?

PSG: The existing and developing global standards structure seems to be positioning itself to address the needs of government and private space enterprises. These are not always the same, as you know, and I suspect the market place will determine just which global standards structure will be most productive. The recent sponsored action by the AIA, “The Future of Aerospace Standardization” provides an excellent assessment of the key requirements for standard systems intended to support the global aerospace industry. (

CSB: That report expressed the belief that Europe was creating standards more effectively than the U.S., and that the U.S. was in danger of being relegated to a "follower" rather than a "leader" role.  What is your view on the conclusions and recommendations of that report, and on any plans being made to address them?

PSG: The United States standards development system is decentralized whereas the standards developing system in Europe is centralized. That within itself makes for a difference in the way standards products are developed. Personally, I believe whether the United States is losing its “leadership” role in the development of standards will be determined by the international market place. The more the SDOs in the United States reach out and include international cooperation and involvement in their standards development, as is being done by ASTM and SAE, for example, the less danger there will be in the United States loosing its “leadership” role in the development of standards.

CSB: What plans does NASA have for the future in the standards area?

PSG: To increase its collaboration with SDOs, both national and international, to the degree practical. In particular, the NASA Technical Standards Program will move forward in supporting the President’s initiative for a Space Shuttle replacement, return to the moon, and eventually go to Mars.

Comments? Email:

Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove

Selected NASA site links:

A. General (no password required):

NACA/NASA’s contributions to flight – a decade by decade timeline:

NASA History Division: a categorized list of links to NASA programs, topics, and much more:

NASA Transformation press release:

NASA Centers list, with links to each Center:

B. NASA Standards Program (public, but login required):

NASA Technical Program public website

Technical Program Supporting Documents archive:

Appendix A



  0000 Documentation & Configuration Management, Program Management Program Management
    Configuration & Documentation Mgmt
    Packaging, Shipping & Handling
    Reproduction and Document Archiving
    Drawing Practices
  1000 Systems Engineering and Integration, Aerospace Environments, Celestial Mechanics
    System Analysis, Engineering & Integration
    Orbital and Celestial Mechanics, Trajectory/Performance
    Aerospace Environments
    Standards for Weights and Units of Measurement
    System Terminology
    Automation & Robotics
  2000 Computer Systems, Software, Information Systems
    Computer Design (Flight and Ground)
    Software Design (Flight and Ground)
    Computer and Software Security
    Information Systems (ADP) and network Communications Design
  3000 Human Factors & Health Ergonomics
    Health Science
  4000 Electrical & Electronics Systems, Avionics/Control Systems, Optics
    Electrical / Electronic Design including Printed Circuit Boards
    Electrical Ground and Airborne Support Equipment
    Electromagnetics and Electrical Discharge control
    Electrical Power
    Electrical, Electronic, and Electromechanical (EEE) Parts
    Guidance and Control
    RF Design
  5000 Structures/Mechanical Systems, Fluid Dynamics, Thermal , Propulsion, Aerodynamics
    Structural Design including Stress Corrosion control
    Mechanical Design including Mechanical and Propulsion Ground and Airborne Support Equipment
    Propulsion Design
    Thermal Design
    Flight & Fluid Dynamics
    Pyrometry, Electrical Explosive Subsystems
  6000 Materials and Processes, Parts
    Materials & Materials testing including Fluids and Propellants
    Material Processes including Material Selection
    Mechanical Parts
  7000 System & Subsytem Test, Analysis, Modeling, Evaluation
    System and Subsytem testing including Environmental testing
    Test Evaluation
    Test Bed
    Analysis and Modeling
    System Simulation
  8000 Safety, Quality, Reliability, Maintainability
    Safety (Flight, Ground, Personnel and Equipment)
    Quality (Hardware and Software)
    Reliability (Hardware and Software)
    Maintainability (Hardware and Software?)
  9000 Operations, Command, Control, Telemetry/Data Systems, Communications
    Flight and Ground Operations
    Mission Command & Control
    Telemetry and Data Systems Design
    Flight to Ground RF Communications
  10000 Construction and Institutional Support
    Facilities Design
    Roads and Grounds Support
    Institutional Support (Local transportation, Fire Control, Telephones,
    Health Care, Etc)



Percentage of Documents Downloaded







NASA Center Developed




NASA Developed (Preferred)


Other Gov Stds


























Other SDO's






Voluntary Consensus Standards Body


Acoustical Society of America


Aerospace Industries Association of America


American Bearing Manufacturers Association


American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics


American Society for Metals


American Society for Quality


American Society for Testing and Materials


American Society of Agricultural Engineers


American Society of Mechanical Engineers


American Society of Non-Destructive Testing


American Welding Society


Association for Information and Image Management


Committee on Earth Observing Satellites


Computational Fluid Dynamics General Notational System


Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems


Electronic Industries Alliance


Electronic Industries Association/American National Standards Institute


Government Electronics & Information Technology Association


Industrial Technology Research Institute


Institute for Interconnecting and Packaging Electronic Circuits


Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers


Institute of Environment Sciences and Technology


International Electrotechnical Commission


International Organization for Standardization


International Organization for Standardization/International/Electrotechnical Commission


National Association of Corrosion Engineers


National Conference of Standards Laboratories


National Fire Protection Association


Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics


Society of Automotive Engineers


Space Frequency Coordination Group


The Internet Society


Welding Research Council






Earlier this month, we launched a new Blog in the now classic, frequently updated style in order to present and analyze the standards news of the day. You can find this new section of at the Standards Blog. Each month, we will provide one or more of the most recent entries from the Standards Blog in the CSB.

Context : The proper meaning of “open standards” has been a topic of increasingly heated debate this year (see: “What Does “Open: Mean?” ), and nowhere has that debate been more heated (naturally) than in the Blogosphere. The following entry is one of a series that appeared in the Standards Blog and David Berlind’s Blog at ZDNet over a period of about a week’s time. That series addressed the question of whether the need for speed and the ends justify the open source community’s desire to dictate the terms of what “open standards” should mean, not only for themselves, but for the standards development community as well. The point of departure was the objection by the Apache Foundation to a certain licensing term required by Microsoft and IBM, which own patents that would be infringed by implementing WS-Security, a feature that Apache would like to include in its open source software.

July 13, 2005

Blog Pong/Legacy Issues

David Berlind over at ZDNet Blogs has picked up on my Apache/WS-Security post of a few days ago and quoted me extensively on why I think that Microsoft will play ball with Apache. David also reiterates his contention that, where a consortium has more than one track (e.g., RAND as well as royalty free), it’s misleading for people to be able to say, "We're an X standard," possibly giving the impression that they are royalty free when in fact they took the RAND option. David goes on to suggest a color-coded rating system that would offer a rainbow ranking of "openness."

Two reactions: First, the idea of having greater clarity in what a given imprimatur means is a good one, particularly since the details can vary so widely. In fact, you could take it even farther than David has, because the commitments that a participant in standard setting is required to make can have a lot of trapdoors (e.g., "we pledge to license all patents that our representative knows about," which is pretty thin gruel in the guarantee department when a big company is the member). One could imagine a "truth in standards" checklist where the organization would be encouraged to indicate which terms it did and did not include in its IPR policy.

My second reaction, though, is that anyone who has knocked around in the standards area at all knows that policies are different enough that if it's important enough to care, you'd better go look at the policy. So whether a given standard setting organization had one IPR option or three, you’d still better find out what the rules are before you take your product to the market.

My response at the ZDNet site addresses the question from a different perspective, providing some historical context for why I think it will take the market a while to get to where David is anxious to see it go. I'll skip the long stage-setting, but here are the conclusions I ended with:

First, and most importantly, it just takes time to teach old dogs new tricks. To some people, the kind of licensing terms open source wants seem like lunacy, because they are so different from what the old dogs grew up with. So a lot of the urgency in your comments may be understandable from the "we need this now!" perspective, but it isn't really too realistic when many people just can't see it yet.

So second, there's an educational question. People have to understand it and get comfortable with it before they can support it.

Third, there's that convergence thing. Your idea about labeling "how open" a standard is may seem obvious, but bear in mind that until recently standards people lived in stovepipes. People who needed to know which organizations put out standards of multiple flavors did know, and they didn't need labels.

Which takes me to my fourth and final point: The reason that people are talking about standards today is because the damn things actually work now. When I started working with consortia 18 years ago, standards were something that lots of people talked about, and nobody really believed in. Today, with the Internet and the Web, standards are things that *have* to work in order for us to do anything at all. So people have no choice but to believe in them and make them work. They even get advertised to boost the appeal of consumer products now (like WiFi and Bluetooth enabled devices).

So today, standards are more strategic than ever, and more important than ever. So guess what? People are going to start hyping and exaggerating them just like they do about every technical aspect of a product. One might say it's an indication that standards have finally "made it."

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Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove



The monthly essay formerly found at the Standards Blog tab has been rechristened “Consider This…” We will continue to bring diverse and eclectic reflections on life, standards, and everything to you each month under this new title. Such as this.

[][][] July 21, 2005

#30 Standards Relativity and the Return of the Shuttle

Last time around in For Your Reference, we took a look at the lighter side of one of the less-often noticed types of commonalities: reference materials. As we noted in that piece, a bewildering array of reference materials (some of which are surprising, obscure, or downright scary) can be purchased for use in standards conformity work.

As with most other types of standards, the value of a reference material lies in its uniformity (e.g., this much of that weighs this). A reference material, then, is the physical instantiation of a standard, just as a yardstick or a kilogram balance weight is the physical representation of a unit of measurement. By their nature, then, the utility of uniform reference materials used to establish properties such as weight, purity, ductility and the like is dependent on the justifiable assumption that those properties will remain uniform throughout their use.

All of that sounds rather neat and tidy. But really, it isn’t. Let’s start by looking at some definitions to see why using standards that involve physical properties (even ones that can be instantiated by reference materials) is much more complicated that it sounds.

For example: you probably remember from high school science classes that a calorie (or, more properly speaking, a kilocalorie) is the amount of heat that it takes to raise one gram of pure liquid water by one degree Celsius, right? Well, not quite. What a calorie really represents is the amount of heat that it takes to raise that gram of water by one degree Celsius, when the water sample is subject to one atmosphere of pressure, and was at a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius before you put it over your Bunsen burner.

In other words, if you are conducting an experiment using a Bunsen burner that is not located at sea level, or even if a high front happens to be in place as you heat your beaker, you will need to recalibrate your experiment in order to prevent a degree of error from entering into your test results. And not necessarily a small one, either, which is why people in places like Denver, Colorado (aka. the “Mile High City”) use pressure cookers to boil their potatoes if they wish to eat dinner at a reasonable hour of the evening.

In short, there are two standards being employed rather than one in this example: a standard for an assumed set of conditions, and a standard based upon those assumed conditions. If you don’t know both standards, then you don’t have a useful tool for performing precise measurements.

Nor is the calorie an isolated example. Take the speed of sound, for instance. Do you recall that the “speed of sound” is 741.5 miles per hour? In point of fact, that is a similarly meaningless (or at least relativistic) statement. You’ll begin to see why when I remind you that, yes, this is the speed of sound through a “standard atmosphere”, which means a specific mix of gases, at a specific temperature (a major factor) and humidity (a minor factor). Air pressure, surprisingly enough, doesn’t matter, but since temperature and humidity both decrease with altitude, the speed of sound can be roughly calculated by reference to altitude. You don’t have to go too far in looking into the speed of sound before you begin to run into statements like this:

An analysis based on conservation of mass and momentum shows that the speed of sound a is equal to the square root of the ratio of specific heats g times the gas constant R times the temperature T.

a = sqrt [g * R * T]

Got that? Good. Now we can move along to where things get complicated.

Take ballistics, for example. If you are trying to figure out where an artillery shell will land after traveling several miles, you are not working with just adjustments that must be made from your “standards” at the point of departure of the shell, but at every point along its trajectory until it reaches its hoped-for (assuming that you are on the giving, and not the receiving end) point of arrival. To work that out, you’ll also need to know things like the fact that the formula for acceleration due to gravity is : 32.174 fps = 9.80665 m/s (yes, this will be on the final).

It’s easy to understand how this incredibly complex type of calculation would matter quite a bit if you are firing a 16-inch diameter shell with the weight of a Volkswagen from the decks of the battleship New Jersey at a target 15 miles away. It’s also easy to see why the calculation of ballistics problems in the military was one of the first applications imagined for computers.

It might be handy, though, to have a little processing power behind you when hunting with a high-powered rifle as well. Or at least that’s the opinion of the developers of the Infinity Suite of ballistics software for recreational use:

Suppose that a hunter living near St. Louis, MO, has a Model 70 Winchester rifle in 300 Winchester Magnum that he uses to hunt mule deer and elk in western Colorado at an altitude near 8500 feet above sea level. His gun is telescope sighted. He loads Sierra’s .308" dia 200 grain Spitzer Boat Tail (SBT) GameKing bullet at 2800 fps muzzle velocity for hunting. He sights his gun in at a target range near St. Louis that is located at an altitude near 500 feet above sea level. The question is, if he sights his rifle in at the target range near St. Louis on a late summer day in St. Louis when the temperature at the target range is 92°F, and a local weather report lists the barometric pressure at 30.25 in Hg and the relative humidity at 90 percent, where will his gun shoot in western Colorado where he intends to hunt? Sierra’s Infinity program will be used to answer this question.

In short, what the above example indicates is that when precision matters, the second half of our pair of standards (assumption of conditions and the traditional, resulting standard) may be standard, but the first half is likely to be (literally) all over the map. Not only do you have to recalibrate before you start to use such a relativistic standard, but every time a variable changes, so also must your calculations.

In the days of Wilbur and Orville Wright, very little of this type of recalibration was necessary (except for wind, which represented a variable with too large an impact to ignore). But as airplanes, and then jets, flew higher, farther and faster, margins of error introduced by failing to take changes in variables into account increased exponentially.

As science advanced, things almost seemed to get worse rather than better. The good news was that more variables were identified and understood and more ambitious things could be done where those variables mattered. The bad news was that all of those variables needed to be taken into account in order to take advantage of these new discoveries and abilities.

Let’s go back to an example to demonstrate this. We all know that mass and gravity are different, and that while a kilogram would have a different weight (i.e., gravitational attraction) on Mars than on Earth, its mass would be the same on each planet. But wouldn’t its weight be uniform on earth?

Well, no again. Since gravity is the sum of the attractive force between two masses, if you increase the mass of either, you increase the attractive force, and therefore the weight of the object being measured. As a result, something will weigh slightly more on top of a mountain than it would at sea level, because there is more mass lying between the top of the mountain and the center of the earth than there is between a beach and the earth’s center. And that should theoretically be taken into account, if you are (for example) firing a projectile over the top of a mountain and you wish to be as accurate as possible in your aim.

Or how about the energy needed to achieve orbital velocity? Wouldn’t that be the same everywhere? You guess. No again, which is why launch facilities are located as close to the equator as possible, so that the earth’s rotational speed can offer a significant boost to the launch vehicle, thus allowing more precious payload weight for the same amount of fuel.

At least time must be a constant, one would assume, offering at least one fixed standard in a sea of variables. Well, Einstein took that one away from us one hundred years ago this year. With the general acceptance of Einstein’s theory of relativity and the development of instruments precise enough to test its effects, it was found that the passage of time is sufficiently different at the altitudes at which commercial jets travel that adjustments must be made to prevent aircraft from wandering off course.

In short, the designers of civil and military aircraft must not only meet highly exacting materials standards in order to build airframes that can withstand the aerodynamics, temperature and other extremes that sub-, trans- and supersonic flight requires, but those who pilot those aircraft must be supplied with instruments of incredible sophistication in order to travel and arrive predictably and safely.

Even with massive computational resources, it would be difficult to impossible to pull off such a feat, since inevitably minute errors in measuring such variables would compound and become magnified. What avoids this type of outcome is recourse, through other high-tech tools, to a trick that is as old as the history of maritime navigation: getting a fix.

Prior to the discovery of the techniques of celestial navigation, mariners relied on a process known as “dead reckoning.” In principal, all of the calculations that modern navigational instruments make that do not rely on “taking a fix,” and all targeting software, rely on the same basic concept. At sea, dead reckoning is worked out like this: every hour the speed and direction of a ship is estimated and recorded, together with all known variables as well as they can be estimated, such as drift downwind, and the direction and speeds of the currents in which a ship might be found. Over time, errors in estimating these variables multiplied.

Even with celestial navigation, which could establish location with reasonable accuracy, a series of cloudy days would leave a navigator totally dependent on dead reckoning, resulting in tense moments on moonless nights or in fog when treacherous waters were known to lie ahead. Until about twenty years ago, even the navigators of aircraft carriers were required to know – and use – celestial navigation, but could still find themselves in such a situation.

To find a known reference point – such as an island – therefore permitted all accumulated errors to be erased, and a new course of dead reckoning to begin from this known starting point. With the development of (first) coastal LORAN and (later) global systems such as GPS, sea and air navigators were able to spend more and more of their time in areas where a reliable electronic fix was readily and constantly available, eliminating the need for dead reckoning at all, except as a fall back in the event of instrument failure.

With the advent of orbital, and then interplanetary space vehicles, however, new challenges arose, some in matters of degree, and some that were entirely new. For example, a vehicle need not only survive atmospheric conditions as well as space conditions to attain orbit, but its navigational and steering mechanisms must be able to take into account a corresponding (and incredibly rapid) change in variables as well.

But, strangely, having left the surface of the earth, spaceships do reach a realm where, at last, there is a true, single-component standard that does not change with (at least naturally-occurring) conditions: the speed of light. Unlike sound, there is no “Doppler effect” of light, and a beam of light projected from the bow of a spaceship forward would travel at the same speed, relative to the same point in space, as a beam of light projected in the opposite direction from the same spaceship.

Thus it is that when Discovery finally leaves earth behind on the first Shuttle mission since the Columbia tragedy, it will enter an environment that is, at least in one way (and perhaps others) more serene and rational than the highly variable and complex one that it has left behind.

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Copyright 2005 Andrew Updegrove

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