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F Eilingsfeld, , "An Alternative Strategy Process for Planning Government Space Programs", IAA-98-IAA.8.1.08. 1998.
Also downloadable from alternative strategy process for planning government space programs.shtml

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An Alternative Strategy Process for Planning Government Space Programs
Fabian Eilingsfeld

This paper presents some thoughts and a methodical approach to the strategic planning of large government projects that takes into account the dynamic development of global problems. Given that an overarching strategic intent is in place and budgetary resources are limited, the methods described herein allow its user to generate and evaluate a set of project proposals according to their individual problem solving potential. In a final step, one is able to select those proposals that are preferable for further planning. Rather than generating detailed programs that are hard to implement in a dynamic environment, the method described herein is only modeling the priorities of different project alternatives. This is less detailed as the plans that result from a classic strategic planning approach, yet is highly usable as a roadmap for implementation. The most important advantage of this approach is its suitability for a dynamic planning with inherent learning cycles that can easily be adapted to dynamic changes in the planning environment. Since change is a well-known phenomenon in space program planning, a paradigm shift towards more flexible and adaptable ways of planning seems to be required.

Government's Space Planning: Present Situation and Problems

During the 1960s, space flight had become synonymous with regular technological breakthroughs as well as sheer limitless capabilities in organization and management. NASA, especially after succeeding with the first manned Lunar landing, became the symbol for a government agency that simply could do everything.

Over the years, this positive image of "government in space" has changed for the worse and government space programs have become the object of increasing public criticism. The public space sector today has the following problems:

  • Dynamic change took place since the end of the 1980s ("Cold War" ended).

  • Ambitious space policies and plans (Europe's autonomy in space , Space Exploration Initiative, ) could not be sustained, had to be re-assessed or withdrawn.

  • Large projects from the 1980s had to be cancelled (NASP, Buran, Hermes, Columbus, MTFF, ).

  • The high hopes for an "arms conversion bonus" for the space sector did not come true.

  • Criticism exists that space programs do not address the real problems of society, for instance, the global crisis.

  • After many large corporations demonstrated what can be achieved with "lean production" and "lean management", the public begins to ask for a "lean government".

Although some positive trends are visible as well, the factors given above seem to be certain signs of impending crisis. And: society is less willing than ever to accept this crisis as simply God-given. It rather sees it as a product of bad planning.

Approaches to Strategic Planning

The classic strategic planning process as it had been applied in the public space sector for decades was focused on deliberate strategies. This meant that a strategy (i.e., a pattern of objectives and the respective measures for achieving them) was formulated in detail before implementing it.

Typically, the strategy was formulated in the form of a program with finely tuned components (i.e., projects) that were later to be implemented over time in a particular sequence while being supplied with a steady stream of resources (money, personnel, etc). This "hot house approach" (see Figure 1) is well documented, at least in the Western space nations, and has been used since the early days of space flight. Over the years, many different plans and blueprints for future space programs have been published and communicated.

The main characteristics of the underlying strategic planning approach have been:

  • Historical orientation towards deliberate strategies

  • Focusing on content, not processes

  • Aiming for a precise, waterproof plan for measures in form of a program

  • Static: Sensitive to change in the planning environment

  • Modifications are problematic

  • Demand for "planning security"

The deficits of the classic strategic planning approach "first formulate your strategy, than implement it" can be summed up quite briefly: the self-imposed restriction of strategy formation to deliberate strategies excludes learning processes after the strategy's formulation and during its implementation.

Planning and "real action" are artificially separated. Strategy formulation generally takes place at high levels of management, far removed from the details of running an organization on a daily basis.

In the "hot house approach", the active learning cycle of "planning, doing, checking, and reacting" is suspended. The emergence of new strategies in response to an evolving situation in a dynamic world cannot take place.

This inherent weakness of existing space organizations can be told by the fact that most space plans and blueprints could not be implemented as intended!

The Learning Space Organization

In recent years there has been an increasing perception of deficits and insufficiencies in the classic way of planning government space programs. NASA, for instance, has occasionally published its intentions of re-inventing itself. This goes together with a strategic reorientation and a new focus on satisfying the needs of all the different stakeholders (public, industry, science community, etc) in the government space program.

Taking this into account, one might ask why government agencies have not yet accepted and employed some of the concepts and approaches that have become known in connection with "learning organizations". For instance, the "process strategy" (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The different strategic approaches

If one applies the concept of organizational learning to space agencies, one can assume the following type of a learning space organization:

  • Learning Goal:

    To survive in a dynamic environment

  • Learning Stimulus:

    Confusing state of affairs in the relationship organization environment (misunderstanding, disapproval, performance gaps, )

  • Learning Mechanism:

    Acceptance of new strategic assumptions based on strategic reorientation and monitoring of the decision environment

  • Learning Result:

    Adaptation; balance between the organization and its dynamic environment

If one applies these characteristics to the US space agency, one may conclude that NASA's strategic reorientation was the result of a learning process. But: without its other part, namely the monitoring of the decision environment, the learning mechanism as defined above is incomplete.

Therefore, in order to respond appropriately to its dynamic environment, a space agency needs a process that "scans the horizon", detects new trends and/or problems and makes them accessible for subsequent decision-making. What could such a process look like?

An Alternative Strategy Process

An alternative strategy process for the planning of government space programs should avoid the pitfalls of the "business as usual", including:

  • Failure of showing the connection between perceived problems and the intended measures for their solution; instead, the process should make underlying assumptions (e.g., which project benefits which problem's solution?) highly visible.

  • Failure to take into account developments in a dynamic environment; instead, the process should continually track influence factors.

  • Failure to implement plans as intended; instead of defining one big solution/decision (i.e., program), the process should break it down into many small partial solutions/decisions (i.e., projects or measures).

Starting in the early 1990s, a respective process (Figure 2) had been developed at the Technical University of Berlin ( TUB) as part of a research project. First findings were published as a doctoral thesis by the TUB's aerospace institute in 1997.

Figure 2: The six steps of the strategy process

The process in its present state of development is comprised of six different process steps.

Step 1: Establish Ability to Work

The organization (planning team) is assembled and provided with all required resources (personnel, know-how, time, ). The individual roles and the planning task have to be clarified and accepted.

Step 2: Analyze Problem Area

The problem area is the field in which the subsequently proposed projects will have to demonstrate their individual problem-solving potential. All problems have to be quantified ("only the quantified can be improved") in order to lay the ground for later evaluation of the different measures.

Step 3: Develop Solution Alternatives

This is the single most creative step of the whole process. Different project proposals are generated while applying appropriate creativity tools and techniques.

Step 4: Evaluate Solution Alternatives

The previously defined alternative projects are assessed with respect to their potential contribution to solving the quantified problems. In addition, affordability and desirability (synergies, acceptance) are analyzed and quantified for every single proposed project.

Step 5: Set Planning Priorities

The result of this step is a shortlist of preferable projects sorted by their relative planning priority. This is an index composed of the projects' adjusted efficiency, their planning synergy and their planning urgency.

Step 6: Determine Next Steps

Based on the shortlist of preferable projects, the decision on the next steps is made.

The respective flow chart is depicted below (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Computation flow for the planning priority of space projects
Case Study: Planning a Global Space Program

Testing the newly designed process required its application to a dedicated planning task. Researchers briefly considered implementing the process at a space agency. However, pragmatic reasons constrained its testing within a case study.

The case study thus planned a global space program for a hypothetical "World Space Agency". The respective scenario had the following key features:

  • Founding of a global "office for space planning"

  • Mission: global coordination of government space projects

  • Personnel: 100 space planning experts world-wide plus administrative overhead

  • Time frame: 6 months to apply and thoroughly test the aforementioned process

The planning task was described as follows:

"It is required to identify all global problems that might have to be taken into account by government space planning within a time horizon up to the year 2100. Based on a quantitative evaluation of the different problem relevance, potential solutions (i.e., space projects) have to be defined and assessed with respect to their individual planning priorities."

Starting with a search for space-related global problems, 34 different such problems could be identified (see Appendix 1). All these problems have been assessed with respect to their individual importance, their impact on society, and their potential of being solved by space projects. The respective result the problem's relative relevance for space is a value between 0 and 100%.

This process step delivered four A-problems:

  • Excess of threats by weapons of mass destruction (25.7% of relative relevance)

  • Lack of non-regenerative energy supplies (20.7%)

  • Lack of regenerative energy supplies (15.2%)

  • Lack of free access to unfiltered information (12.0%)

"A-problem" here means that these four problems put together already constitute half of the total problematique (i.e., sum of the relative relevance) of all the 34 problems.

All the assessed problems have to do with the excess or lack of material, energy, information, or people. In order to derive space projects later on, it is practical to define transportation tasks first. As it is shown below (Figure 4), space technology is able to handle a wide variety of these.

Figure 4: Transportation tasks related to space flight

Based on these tasks, the planners are able to define appropriate space projects that address all of the aforementioned global problems.

In the next (very creative) step, the potential space projects have to be defined. All in all, 22 different projects were found and briefly specified during the case study (see Appendix 2).

Since not all of these can be carried out in parallel, those projects that promise a good mix of efficiency, affordability, and desirability (synergies, acceptance) have to be filtered out. The case study's "Top Five" in terms of adjusted efficiency have been the following projects:

  • Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle (226.5 points)

  • Permanent Lunar Base (44.0)

  • Space Solar Power System (23.4)

  • Medium-Lift Reusable Space Transportation System (20.7)

  • Multi-Sensor Remote Sensing Satellite System (20.7)

    Since not all of these projects are of the same planning priority, one has to evaluate the latter by assessing the individual planning urgencies and synergies. In the end, three projects remain that should be "next on the agenda". These are the:

    • Medium-Lift Reusable Space Transportation System (Remaining planning expenditures: 840 man-years; Planning begins 1999),

    • Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle (8400 MY; 2001),

    • Permanent Lunar Base (23,000 MY; 2001).

    This shortlist comprises the projects that from the present point of view are the most urgent and promising for the further planning of government space ventures. They all represent critical subsystems of a future space infrastructure.


    In a dynamic world, with the public's increasing perception of a global crisis, the planning of government space programs has to be adapted to the new environment. The question that was asked by planners over the years: "What are the right things to be done in space in the future?" might be replaced by the question: "How can I support to do the right things in space all the time?". The underlying paradigm shift seems to be justified since the "old way" of planning space programs continues to deliver plans and programs that cannot be implemented as planned.

    It is suggested to replace formalized strategic planning with its focus on contents and deliberate strategies by a dynamic strategy process that allows for more flexibility and strategic learning. As one compares the two alternatives (see Table 1), one can see that a dynamic strategy process looks more promisin

    Formalized Strategic PlanningDynamic Strategy Process

    Planning security has tobe maximizedPlanning security is just a paradigm to be overcome
    Detailed examination; precisionHolistic examination; plausibility
    Focus on contentFocus on the process of strategy formation
    Detailed and precise action plan in form of a program; hard to implement as intendedModeling of project priorities; less detailed, but useful as a roadmap for project implementation
    Static; sensitive against modificationsDynamic: easily adaptable
    Leads to fixed actions that are carried out "according to plan"Leads to determined actions, aided by transparent decision-making
    Goal: a waterproof action planGoal: an intelligent management of alternative actions
    "Change is a problem.""Change is an incentive to learn."

    Table 1: Space planning in comparison

    In order to be fit for the future in a society that is increasingly critical of space ventures, government space agencies need a new, process-oriented planning approach. Or, as a well-known writer put it: God is in the process, not in the details.

    Appendix 1: Identified Space-Relevant Global Problems
    Excess of humans
    Lack of family planning
    Excess of unemployed people
    Lack of positive visions
    Lack of knowledge transfer
    Lack of technology transfer
    Lack of knowledge about universe
    Excess of threats by weapons of mass destruction
    Lack of information on military threats
    Lack of free access to unfiltered information
    Lack of information on drug growing and trade
    Lack of information on terrorism
    Lack of information on the environment
    Excess of unwanted substances in the environment
    Excess of nuclear warheads
    Excess of threat by meteoroids, comets and asteroids
    Excess of radioactive/toxic waste
    Lack of sunlight in particular seasons
    Lack of information on environmental offences
    Excess of space debris
    Lack of ozone in the stratosphere
    Lack of clean potable water
    Lack of agricultural productivity
    Lack of information on potential famines
    Lack of information on potential natural disasters
    Lack of raw materials
    Lack of non-regenerative energy supplies
    Lack of energy distribution
    Lack of regenerative energy supplies
    Lack of navigational information
    Lack of access to extraterrestrial destinations
    Lack of bandwidth for telecommunications
    Lack of global high-speed transportation
    Lack of elementary education
    Appendix 2: Identified Measures/Space Projects
    Military Reconaissance Satellite System
    Ballistic Missile Defense System
    Medium-Lift Reusable Space Transportation System
    Space Solar Power System
    Extraterrestrial Mining
    Support Program for Developing Countries
    Permanent Lunar Base
    Permanent Mars Base
    Helium-3 Mining
    Energy Relay Satellite System
    Satellite-Based Wideband Communication System
    Multi-Sensor Remote Sensing Satellite System
    Orbital Debris Removal System
    Extraterrestrial Waste Disposal
    Nuclear-Pulse Transfer Vehicle
    Ozone Regenerating System
    Educational Satellite System
    Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle
    Early Warning System against Natural Disasters
    Asteroid/Comet Protection System
    Navigation and Traffic Management Satellite System
    Lunar Observatory
  • F Eilingsfeld, , "An Alternative Strategy Process for Planning Government Space Programs", IAA-98-IAA.8.1.08. 1998.
    Also downloadable from alternative strategy process for planning government space programs.shtml

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