The importance of documentation

In technical projects it is always important with documentation. Many people are involved and the only way to know what’s really going on is to make sure everything is down in writing. This is especially true in the aerospace industry, where the technical systems are very complex and the machines may never be reachable for an inspection. One of the best examples of this is the development of the Airbus A380; all the documentation produced during development, if printed out, would weigh more than the plane itself!
In a REXUS project like SQUID, we mainly deal with three kinds of documentation; Meeting minutes, checklists during the launch campaign, and finally the Student Experiment Documentation, SED.
The SED is a document which describes the whole experiment and the team and organizations involved in it. It details the hardware, the software, the team, the planning behind the project, the procedure at launch,the outreach/PR activities and all the tests and processes during the development. The document is updated constantly, and new major revisions are produced and sent in to the REXUS/BEXUS group at ESA 5 times during the project. Our latest version can be found just a couple of posts down!
Version 1 is sent in for the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in January. It details the preliminary design of the experiment, and states the objectives and requirements that are to be met.
Version 2 is prepared for the Critical Design Review (CDR) in June. The requirements and objectives are already fixed, and focus is on producing a detailed design of the experiment for manufacturing.
Version 3 is written for the Integration Progress Review (IPR), which usually occurs 6 weeks after the CDR. Focus is on addressing the issues raised during the CDR, and adding more information in preparation for the launch campaign. This is the step SQUID is currently at. The document, with all report appendices and schematics, already weighs in at over 350 pages!
Version 4 is submitted a couple of weeks before the launch campaign when the experiment is shipped off, following the Experiment Acceptance Review.
Finally, version 5 is sent in 3 months after the finished launch campaign. Here the results and any lessons learned are documented.
But how does a team of almost ten people manage to work together on a single document?
Well, we’ve gone through a couple of different methods.
Google Docs: We started off using this web word processor, which had some advantages; No program installation was needed, everyone was always in sync, a few people could work on the same document simultaneously, and commenting could be done in real-time. However, the hassle of having to copy paste and reformat all the text into the SED template Word document was way too much for each new revision, taking several hours even when the document was much shorter than it is now. It also requires a working internet connection, and this was not always the case, especially when team members were travelling.

LaTex: This is quite a different way of writing documents, more akin to programming than traditional word processing. It’s easy to use templates and numbering of figures, elements and references is automatic. It’s also easy to merge changed documents together when collaborating. The generated documents also look very good. However, we never got around to adding all the formatting code and such to our previous versions.
Word & Dropbox: We ended up using the merge feature of Microsoft Word, combined with sharing folders in Dropbox. That way the individual word documents are always up to date. It’s not as easy to comment anymore, but this isn’t as important now that everyone has a pretty good idea of their respective areas. However, as Mario can testify, merging is far from flawless!
So, if you want to know everything that’s worth knowing about SQUID, just have a look in the SED.
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