Digital engineering of space missions is central to ESA’s Technology Strategy, endorsed by Europe’s space ministers at last year’s Space19+ Ministerial Council. The reams of documentation required for the design and construction of today’s satellites will be replaced with high-fidelity digital models, to manage complexity and slash cost. Two recent workshops – themselves rendered virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions – considered practical details of this vision.
The Ninth International Systems & Concurrent Engineering for Space Applications Conference, SECESA 2020, was co-organised with TU Delft. It took place from 30 September to 2 October, concerning two interlinked topics: systems engineering – meaning the integration of subsystems into the overall mission – along with concurrent engineering – the bringing all subsystem experts together at a single place and time, to work on a shared software model of a mission.
For more than two decades ESA has been a leader in the field of concurrent engineering, through its Concurrent Design Facility at the Agency’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands, employed for the preliminary design of numerous ESA missions. With different experts combining their expertise through a common digital version of each mission, months of development can be cut to a few weeks.
The CDF itself played a crucial part in allowing SECESA 2020 to take part, with its networked multimedia systems converted into a broadcast studio.
The conference was attended by almost 150 specialists and industry leaders from around the globe: 22 countries were represented with a split of delegates of 34% industry, 42% agencies and 23% universities.
Discussion topics included a look at real and virtual concurrent engineering facilities across the world, and how they have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current and next generation tools enabling engineers to work together. The keynote speech came from NASA’s Team X and Compass concurrent engineering teams. Also under discussion were the special needs of CubeSats and small satellites, future lunar and Mars infrastructure and the value of concurrent engineering for education.
Another important topic was extending concurrent engineering’s digital model technique into the manufacturing and testing phases of space missions – such an ‘Industry 4.0’ approach being the focus of ESA’s Design 2 Produce initiative.
A related, similarly virtual ESA-organised event took place the same week, on 28-29 September: the Model-Based Space Systems and Software Engineering workshop, assessing the state of the art of applying model-based techniques for both systems engineering and software engineering, and their ability to bridge the gap between engineering disciplines and across mission life cycles.
A follow-on to two previous workshops, the event was supported by and co-organised with the MB4SE advisory group, bringing together European space agencies with prime system integrators and their supply chains to support the digitalisation of the engineering workflow of space missions.
The first day focused on model-based systems engineering, showcasing their past, present and future use within missions at ESA, JAXA, NASA, CNES and DLR, along with prime system integrators and newspace companies, to cover a wide range of applications, from CubeSats and ground segments to crewed space and product assurance.
The second day addressed the topic of software engineering, focused on the link to systems engineering, in terms of avionics design and development, and integration with upstream system engineering tools, including the TASTE ecosystem.
The keynote speech came from Dinesh Verma of the Stevens Institute of Technology, one of the driving forces behind the MBSE research agenda in the United States, revealing how Europe’s digitalisation strategy – embodied in ESA’s MBSE development roadmap – is well aligned with developments elsewhere.
More than 275 participants registered for the virtual event, with co-organiser Joachim Fuchs commenting: “MBSE 2020 showed clearly that model-based technologies are here to stay, displaying great promise to enhance development life cycles through the better management of complexity, resulting in a reduced time to market, lower cost and higher quality.”
Co-organiser Agnes Mestreau added: “To maintain and accelerate the momentum of this MBSE event, the plan is for future workshops to take place annually.” Review MBSE 2020 presentations here.
Both workshops employed the same web-based online conferencing tool, so that talks could be interspersed with interactive polls, virtual exhibitors and a carousel networking feature, randomly pairing participants for shared discussion.