Overall, a space systems engineer’s job is not all that different from what a general systems engineer does – but in space systems the environment generates unusual constraints that introduces unique challenges for systems engineers.
In the space systems engineering domain, systems engineering is the process of designing, developing and verifying a space system as an integrated system able to fulfill the objectives of a mission within acceptable technical and programmatic frames.
This is generally a step by step procedure. Considerations include:
- What the space system seeks to accomplish
- What orbit will the mission need as a consequence
- What kind of instruments and how large a payload
- What will be the payload’s optimum operating temperature, and how much power will it require
- How stable and steerable does the spacecraft platform have to be
- What kind of communications infrastructure and associated ground segment will the mission need
- Which launcher will be best suited to deliver it into space
For the space systems engineer, there are unique challenges working with expensive, exotic materials where a gram here or a few degrees of temperature variance matter significantly against the backdrop of space.
As NASA has illustrated over and over again, space is, the ultimate harsh environment. Things shake around a lot on launch and face extreme temperatures once they get in orbit. Of course, these things happen other places too, such as in the automotive industry, but in space a few things change.
For example, a terrestrial systems engineer working on a big server rack that uses a lot of power could easily get a very big fan to blow the heat away. But in space, it’s not so easy. Because space is a vacuum, the space systems engineer needs to find other ways to dissipate heat, such as through conduction or radiation.
Want to learn more? Tonex offers Space Systems Engineering Fundamentals, a 2-day course introducing participants to the fundamental principles of systems engineering applied to development of space systems.
Participants learn about project and systems engineering management, concept definition, stakeholders management, developing ConOps, trade studies, requirements analysis and engineering, system architecture and interface definition, system synthesis, engineering design, integration, verification and validation, operations/sustainability and system retirement (DEMIL).