What innovations does Systems Engineering involve?

Systems engineering is a complex and lengthy process . All space system components interact, so each time a component is updated it has consequences for the overall system, resulting in the analysis and revision by all the disciplines involved. Through the appliance of new techniques ESA has dramatically sped up the design cycle.

Computer-enabled 'Concurrent engineering', pioneered in ESTECs Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) since 1998, enables teams of all disciplines to collaborate together in parallel on a real-time basis. Every time a change is made to a subsystem it becomes immediately visible to the other subsystem teams through an update to a shared virtual engineering model of the spacecraft. The CDF supports thorough preliminary assessments of potential future missions used to support ESA’s decision process and also to provide industry with more precise specifications.

The challenges for Systems engineering come from the new missions that require higher functionality and autonomy, such as planetary exploration spacecraft, landers and rovers. In practice such functionality translates almost directly into software.

So model-based Systems engineering needs to be extended beyond current CDF concurrent engineering initial phase practices, in order to strengthen system – software co-engineering. And service-driven missions with high responsiveness requirements require new approaches. A systems-of-systems approach is needed for missions based on systems operating in concert.

Systems engineering will have to adapt to technology developments such as miniaturisation and integration, blurring the traditional borders between subsystems and equipment and bringing higher complexity at unit level.

Last update: 18 November 2009

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