Preliminary reliability and safety assessment methodology for trans-atmospheric transportation systems

Roberta Fusaro (Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Politecnico di Torino, Turin, Italy)
Nicole Viola (Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Politecnico di Torino, Turin, Italy)

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Publication date: 8 May 2018



This paper aims to propose a methodology for a safety and reliability assessment for the conceptual and preliminary design of very complex and disrupting innovative systems like trans-atmospheric vehicles. The proposed methodology differs from existing ones because it does not rely on statistical data at aircraft-level but exploits the statistical population at components-level only. For the sake of clarity, the paper provides some preliminary results of the application of the methodology at system level. The example deals with the safety and reliability assessment of a very complex propulsion system aimed at guaranteeing vertical take-off and landing capabilities of a suborbital vehicle.


The proposed methodology is strongly based on a systems engineering approach. It exploits safety and reliability assessment analyses which have already been developed in both aeronautical and space engineering domains, but it combines them in an innovative way to overcome the lack of statistics at aircraft level. The methodology consists of two different steps: a qualitative top-down process, allowing a functional and physical decomposition of the transportation system and a following quantitative bottom-up approach, which provides the estimation of system-level reliability and safety characteristics starting from the statistical estimation of the components’ characteristics.


The paper presents a new methodology for the preliminary reliability and safety assessment of innovative transportation systems, such as hypersonic transportation systems. The envisaged methodology will overcome the poorness of statistical data that is usually affecting the conceptual design of breakthrough systems.

Research limitations/implications

The paper shows the application of the articulated methodology to a limited case study. A complete example of application of the methodology to estimate safety and reliability characteristics at vehicle level will be provided in feature works.

Practical implications

The methodology has been proposed to be exploited in international research activities in the field of hypersonic transportation systems. Furthermore, a massive application of this approach would allow to create a database for the generation and the update of semi-empirical models focused on high-level estimations of reliability, availability, maintainability and safety (RAMS) characteristics. Moreover, the proposed safety assessment has been conceived to be fully integrated within a typical conceptual design process.


The existing literature about safety and reliability assessment at the early design stages proposes pure statistical approaches which are usually not applicable to highly innovative products, where the statistical population is not existing, for example, in the case of trans-atmospheric vehicles. This paper describes how to overcome this problem, through the exploitation of statistical data at components-level only through the combination of these data to estimate RAMS characteristics at aircraft-level thanks to functional analysis, concept of operations and typical safety assessment tools, like functional hazard analysis, failure mode and effect analysis, reliability block diagram and fault tree analysis.



Roberta Fusaro and Nicole Viola (2018) "Preliminary reliability and safety assessment methodology for trans-atmospheric transportation systems", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 90 No. 4, pp. 639-651

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