Moonbase Workshop & Importance of Concurrent Engineering

Friday the 1st of March the Moonbase Workshop was given at the Técnico Lisboa (IST) in collaboration with AeroTéc for the Aerospace Week 2019. In this week, students get to know different companies acting in the aerospace industry, see how they operate and also get to learn a thing or two about engineering. In the workshop itself, they would, in the end, make an initial design of a moonbase. The purpose of the workshop was to familiarize the students with common practices within space systems engineering and with the concept of concurrent engineering, a methodology we at Valispace believe to be of utmost importance.

We believe that to empower engineers in the future, we need to provide them with the right tools.

And what better way is there to test these tools than by letting future engineers use them?

In the past, designing was mostly done sequentially. This meant it started off with defining the mission need, setting up the list of requirements and the initial concepts, followed by the subsystem design and design integration and finally ended with the verification and validation. While this is a low-risk approach which ensures quality in the end, it is also a very lengthy process. If problems are identified near the end of the design process, design changes have to be implemented leading to even more design changes. While in the past this was not a huge problem, because making a high quality product was mostly a guarantee for success, this is not the case anymore in most industries. In modern day engineering, the focus is shifting more and more towards decreasing the design time. By doing this effectively, companies can make sure that they bring their products to the market faster than their competitors and thus have a big advantage.

One key method to decrease the time of design, or time to market, is by implementing concurrent engineering.

In concurrent engineering, products are being designed in parallel rather than in sequential fashion. So, instead of waiting for the previous design phase to finish for the next to start, downstream activities are started on the assumption that upstream activities will meet their requirements. An example of this can be seen in the figure below. It can be seen that after the initial planning, there is a continuous flow of activities to design and improve the product. Now, when this is not performed properly, it can induce high risk and even longer time to market. But, when it is performed properly it is shown to significantly reduce the time, cost and even the risk! One of the main in concurrent engineering is proper and timely communication between all departments. When anything, ranging from requirements to individual parts, is being updated, this should be immediately known to everyone so they can adjust their work around this. This requires significant communicational effort which can be a costly and time-consuming task. This is where the software of Valispace comes into play. By introducing automatic design updates for all team members, it is ensures that all engineers are always designing with and for the right requirements and parameters, reducing risk, cost and time.

On to the workshop then. In addition to the goal of educating students on systems engineering, it was also a good chance to qualitatively determine the impact Valispace software has on the quality of and time to make a design.

The participants of the workshop consisted of a group ranging from high school students to bachelor and master students in aerospace engineering and information science. The day started off with an introduction on space systems engineering, the importance of concurrent engineering and how to use the Valispace software. Afterwards, the group was split up into four groups of four or five students each. With the help of the lectures as well as a manual on how to design a lunar settlement , each group started on the assignment to model a Moonbase. Two of the groups were to make use of Valispace software and the other two to use conventional tools. The first part of each assignment consisted of the design of four interdependent subsystems. Obviously, to do this efficiently a certain level of communication and collaboration is required.

Naturally, the students using Valispace did not have to argue about what tool to use and quickly got to work. The other groups, however, had to decide on whether they would use programs like Excel or Matlab or simply doing it by hand. However, once they decided what to use, they too quickly delved into the matter at hand. It was impressive to see that the students took it very seriously and really wanted to get a good result. In the end, all groups finished the first assignment around the same time, all of them having problems of their own.

Now, however, the groups got a new assignment in the second part of the exercise. As often happens in real life, some parameters and requirements of the design had changed. The groups had to implement these changes into their design. After a few minutes, the eyes of the Valispace groups lit up, as they realized that all they have to do is change some numbers and that the software would take care of all subsequent calculations and propagation to documentation. The other groups, however, had to manually change everything, communicating the new results back and forwards amongst each other until finally the new design was found. This immediately shows the strength of Valispace. Even though the design only consisted of four parts being designed by four people, it already shows what kind of an advantage the Valispace software can give. Now imagine it being used by whole departments of hundreds of people…

The workshop finished up with one last assignment. Here, all groups had to make an initial top-level design of a Moon base, taking into account the systems engineering practices they had just learned. The purpose and name of the base, the number of astronauts, the transfer strategy and nominal operations had to be defined; and the sky was the limit. Along with the concept, initial estimations for the mass and power budget had to be made. Besides learning about the initial design phases of such a project, the students also got an idea about the sheer size of complex space projects and everything involved. Thinking about this and finding innovative solutions sparks creativity and makes the students think outside the box, which is a very important trait for making designs in general and for problem-solving skills.

The day ended with pizza and drinks and there was time to talk. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the day and the students were positive about the Valispace software and said that they would also like to use it for study purposes. In order to get truly unbiased results, we performed a rigorous analysis by making use of an online survey.

The results of this were promising. The students reported that they very much liked the software and then particularly the fact that it is so easy to cooperate and keep an overview. Additionally, the international students mentioned that using the software made it much easier to overcome language barriers, which in the future can help make true international collaboration possible. Then, crunching the numbers, 86% of the students mention that they would use the software for study purposes and the other 14% would consider it. Furthermore, 72% of the students would advise their fellows to use the software. These results give us confidence in the future and motivate us to keep improving the software, enabling us to accommodate all engineers in their need to effectively collaborate.

In coherence with our mission to empower future engineers, we want to support students who want to learn more. Are you a student or working at a university and interested in hosting your own customized workshop? Don’t hesitate to contact us at contact-us@valispace.com!