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Many separate elements go into space systems engineering, with individual subsystems developed by specialist teams.

Space system engineers, however, focus on the space system as a whole. They translate the needs from the users, design its architecture, define its building strategy and oversee the integration of subsystems to form the final result.

Most space systems engineers are senior engineers with a number of years of experience in the space industry. Space systems engineers also typically have an area of special expertise, such as:

  • Aerostructures
  • Aerodynamics
  • Guidance and control
  • Propulsion
  • Optical systems
  • Thermal systems

Generally, the design process in space system engineering is guided by considering what the space system engineer seeks to achieve.

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?

Why is space systems engineering important? It’s important because space systems engineering effectively gives birth to missions such as those presented by NASA. A space systems engineer has the pivotal responsibility of  turning an initial idea into a full system description, with all necessary elements integrated into a complete whole.

Some would argue that because there can be so many potential solutions to each question, space systems engineering is as much an art as a science. In reality there are always a multitude of decisions and trade-offs made between the different options in terms of performance, risk, cost, reliability and turnaround time, among other factors.

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).

For more information, questions, comments, contact us.

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