CDF at work

Concurrent Design Facility

What is its role?

Ideas for new space missions or systems are given a definite blueprint in ESA’s stateof-the-art Concurrent Design Facility (CDF).

The CDF’s network of computers, multimedia devices and software tools allow teams of experts from different engineering disciplines to work in close coordination in the same place at the same time to complete the most complex designs imaginable‒in a
matter of a few weeks rather than several months.

What services does it offer?

It is amazing to see the number and diversity of applications to which concurrent engineering is applied in Europe. My understanding is that the CDF has inspired the majority of them. Mark Adler, NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Traditionally, engineers faced with the task of designing a new, complex system or structure work in sequence, one step at a time, passing the design between different subsystem specialists. The CDF enables ‘concurrent engineering’ based on teamwork and focused on a common design model that evolves iteratively in real time as the different subsystem experts make their contributions. Designers and customers agree on requirements and take decisions in real time to allow the best design for the right cost and at an acceptable risk.

The process has been developed and honed so it is now common to produce a costed, risk-assessed conceptual space mission or system design complete with various options and including scheduling, testing and operations in a matter of a few weeks. 

How is it equipped?

CDF in session

The CDF’s suite of rooms is equipped with all the hardware and software tools to create a multidisciplinary and concurrent design environment.

The CDF consists of three design rooms and a number of support and ancillary rooms grouped around a central foyer. The main design room, incorporating a 6 x 2 m projection screen with 30 computer stations (some dedicated to a specific technical discipline, others configurable to any discipline) is used as the primary room for large mission or large instrument studies, while the project design room is smaller and is mainly used for smaller studies or reviews as well as splinter meetings for a larger study.

The support design room is more of a conventional meeting room with a central table. All the rooms are linked via an audio visual network allowing data from any screen or workstation to be displayed on any or all of the screens in the other rooms. All the rooms also have full video conference facilities via ISDN or IP. A 3D-printing facility allows teams to examine tangible prototypes of their designs as they work on them.

The CDF is staffed with experienced engineers drawn from the various domains and led by specialised System Engineers, who fulfil the role of Team Leaders. A number of junior engineers and trainees get on-the-job training during CDF studies.

Who are its customers?

3D visualisation system at ESA's Concurrent Design Facility

Since the CDF was established in 1998, most new ESA missions have taken definite shape here. The CDF is also heavily used by ESA Programme Directorates for conceptual mission, system and roadmap studies, and work on new ESA patents.

ESA’s Space Situational Awareness initiative designed its ‘system of systems’ here – one of the most complex ground segments ever – while ESA’s multi-branch Clean Space initiative to reduce the environmental impact of space missions also makes frequent use of the facility.
As acknowledged pioneers in concurrent engineering, ESA’s CDF engineers have helped to guide the creation of similar facilities in other space agencies, universities, research institutions and industry. ESA’s CDF is helping to establish a whole new way of working.

In 2013 ESA CDF was awarded the prestigious bi-annual award for outstanding services to technical communication by TCeurope, an umbrella organisation representing professionals from all areas of technical communication in ten European countries.

Outside customers of the CDF include the European Defence Agency, developing a modelling and simulation tool to assess the value of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities in support of Europe’s Common Security and Defence Policy.

The CDF also organises a bi-annual workshop of Systems and Concurrent Engineering for Space Applications held at a European university and attended by members of national agencies, industrial companies and academia.

How do I find out more?

Contact the CDF Secretary

Francien van Bruggen

Last update: 22 July 2014

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