We Can’t Count on Repairing All Failures Going to Mars



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46th International Conference on Environmental Systems


Reliability analysis often assumes that a complex system can be kept operating indefinitely with scheduled maintenance and emergency repair using a stock of spare parts, as long as the spare parts are not depleted. This assumption seems justified for well-tested, widely used, long operational systems with a multigenerational history of failure, redesign, and reliability growth. It seems doubtful that newer, relatively untried, high technology space systems can always be repaired. We cannot assume space systems will have a low rate of random failures that can all be repaired with a few identical spares. New untried systems usually have a high initial failure rate, called infant mortality, due to errors in requirements, design, parts, materials, and operations planning. These problems can cause groups of related failures called Common Cause Failures (CCFs). The practical definition of a CCF is any failure mode that cannot be cured using identical redundant systems or spare parts. Systems with CCFs may fail repeatedly for the same reason. Can a life support system be kept operating on the way to Mars using only redundant systems and spare parts? The failure history of International Space Station (ISS) life support systems suggests that CCFs are likely to occur and will probably require design changes rather than being reparable with spare parts.


United States
ICES511: Reliability for Space Based Systems
Vienna, Austria
Harry Jones, NASA Ames Research Center, USA
The 46th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held in Vienna, Austria, USA on 10 July 2016 through 14 July 2016.


repair, spares, common cause failures