It looks like a flight control room: interlinked consoles are ranged in front of a 6-m long multimedia wall, to host representatives of all space mission disciplines. However, ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility is not for steering satellites, but for specialist experts to come together and design them.
Teams of experts gather here to perform concurrent ‘pre-Phase A’ studies of proposed future space missions, rapidly establishing their initial technical, programmatic and economic feasibility ahead of industrial development.
Based at ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands, the CDF has performed more than 250 studies to date, their subjects ranging from CubeSats to Moon bases, systems of systems to probes to the outer planets – along with the very first iterations of numerous ESA missions that have gone on to fly. This year the CDF marks its 20th birthday.
“Concurrent engineering involves bringing all necessary experts into a single room to work together in real time,” explains CDF founder Massimo Bandecchi. “Their collaboration is based on a shared software model of the mission.
“The result is very powerful: with all disciplines contributing at the same time and place, we tackle problems from all points of view, to turn a naturally sequential process into something more parallel, to complete studies in weeks rather than months.”
From humble origins using second-hand computers in a disused server room the CDF has grown to become a major ESA asset, performing 10 to 15 major studies per year, in the process inspiring more than 40 other concurrent engineering centres across Europe, following the CDF model.