Space systems engineering usually encompasses space systems engineers who are part of a spacecraft program lifecycle from start to finish, including designing, building, testing, and, sometimes, deploying the spacecraft.
Additionally, space systems engineers need to have a technical understanding of all of the subsystems involved in a spacecraft, including the structural and electrical systems, thermal control, power, and communication.
In reality, many separate elements go into making a space system, with individual subsystems developed by specialist teams. 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.
Development of scientific instrumentation and space-based systems also often falls under space systems engineering. Measurements and observations from space are of fundamental importance for physical sciences such as geophysics and astrophysics.
Space systems engineers are often called upon to design, develop, and qualify scientific space instruments and satellite systems and how to use advanced analysis methods and physical and mathematical modelling to ensure that these complex systems are compliant with mission requirements.
These instruments and support systems (e.g., navigation, communication) need also to operate and perform efficiently in the harsh conditions of space for which verification techniques before launch into space are essential to be implemented.
At NASA, space systems engineers are involved with projects when they are at their earliest Technology Readiness Levels. They assist in making sure that the finished product will be a tool that will help to meet and fulfill SCaN’s (Space Communication and Navigation) goals and objectives. This technology can be adopted and/or used by NASA missions.
This is considerably different from the contributions of say, structural engineers, electrical engineers, mechanism designers, power engineers, human factors engineers, and many more disciplines are evaluated and balanced, one against another, to produce a coherent whole that is not dominated by the perspective of a single discipline.
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).
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