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Assembling a Team

Scope and Description

This topic page covers the assembly of a team for a smallsat project. This includes selecting the types of individuals to include in the project, structuring the organizational hierarchy, and addressing challenges that are specific to smallsat teams. There is exceptional diversity in the types and sizes of organizations building smallsats. Large, experienced organizations are challenged with assembling a team that leverages their in-house expertise while keeping costs low. Conversely, university teams are challenged with assembling a team that compensates for a lack of experience and expertise and accounts for high turnover. Addressing the unique staffing and structural challenges for a smallsat project is essential to efficiently developing and executing a successful mission.

Resources under this topic area include case studies for successful university smallsat programs and general guidance on structuring and staffing an engineering team.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

When assembling a student team, put in place structure and processes that minimize the impact of high turnover. Avoid losing an entire sub-group at once due to graduation, and require detailed documentation to prevent loss of institutional knowledge when individuals move on.

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

Having experienced individuals on the team is essential to developing a successful, reliable smallsat. Budget and schedule constraints often require the team to be efficient and make well informed decisions regarding where to focus limited resources. There is a strong correlation between the experience of a team or organization with smallsat development and their chances of success.

Last Updated:

Nov. 10, 2021

A Team-of-Teams approach may be useful. Here, a core team is supplemented by additional expertise as required, drawing in people from other areas and disciplines. The composition of the overall team changes as required over time. This type of approach is particularly useful when engaging with multiple existing teams spread across different areas of expertise. The teams have distributed but coordinated accountability and decision making. The teams are fluid in nature and therefore can deal with the transitory nature of student participation.

Last Updated:

Nov. 1, 2021

The ideal smallsat team is small and agile. Recruit innovative, highly technical individuals with good communication skills and a commitment to take personal responsibility for the quality and rigor of their work. In the absence of rigorous process, these types of individuals will give the best chance of success.

Last Updated:

Nov. 10, 2021

Recruit subject matter experts as advisers/reviewers in the areas of expertise that are not available within the core team.

Resources

MAXWELL Mission Handbook

White Paper
Aaron P Aboaf

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This document provides "a comprehensive collection of high level programmatic and technical information ... about the MAXWELL CubeSat Mission." The "Life Cycle and Concept of Operations" section provides a useful example of a smallsat ConOps. In addition, the "Programmatics" section provides a thorough case study for recruiting, motivating, onboarding, and managing a student smallsat team from an experienced university program.

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

These slides from a student-led CubeSat team at ASU discuss the necessary structure and qualities needed ... for a successful smallsat mission. It outlines the general team structure, communication practices, lessons learned, and realities of unexpected events.

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

This book by a retired US Army General provides an approach to structuring a team that could be useful ... for smallsat projects. In this "team of teams" approach, a core team is supplemented by additional expertise as required, drawing in people from other areas and disciplines.

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2021

This resource provides an overview of 3 university student-led CubeSat teams that have launched over ... 4 satellites. A case study for each university details the team architecture and the necessary characteristics that led to successful missions such as leadership, communication, individual skillsets, and the transfer of knowledge.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This paper describes nine roles for the mission operations of a spacecraft. From mission operations manager ... to early orbit support, this document provides the responsibilities of each position and why they are critical in ensuring mission success.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This paper overviews the US Air Force Academy's process in developing an undergraduate curriculum for ... small satellite design. The course was designed as a hands-on approach to teach students about smallsat design by "learning space by doing space". Section III of the document describes the group work and interdisciplinary involvement portion of the course which taught individuals communication skills and analytical understanding of the entire spacecraft system.

Last Updated: Oct. 18, 2021

This resource provides a general description of the three primary team structures that are recommended ... for engineering teams. It discusses real-world examples of technology/engineering organizations that implemented these team structures and the pros and cons associated with each.