Digital Engineering is the Future of the Space Enterprise

The next era of space innovation will require systems and operators be faster, smarter and more connected to meet coming challenges. This will require a massive paradigm shift toward digital engineering principles and technologies.

Modern space is transforming at unprecedented speed. Aerospace is advancing the concepts, capabilities, and strategies needed to leverage an integrated digital approach to solve challenges across the space and other complex enterprises. Adopting a digital-first approach enables enterprise integration and better multi-domain collaboration, producing scalable, agile architectures and informed acquisition planning.

“At its most fundamental, digital engineering is the application of modern technologies and processes at an enterprise scale to perform, connect and integrate traditional engineering functions in new ways. It represents a transformation of the way we do business that spans everything from systems acquisitions to mission assurance to enterprise integration.”

Todd Nygren, Senior Vice President, Engineering and Technology Group

Digital engineering is built upon the use of authoritative data, model-based approaches, and integrated analytical tools to create fully connected digital ecosystems, providing full domain awareness, repeatable model-driven processes, dynamic simulation environments, and real-time testing and implementation.

In these digital ecosystems, validated data across various disciplines is stored as a central reference, enabling digital simulations that evolve and follow hardware and software systems throughout the lifecycle. These simulations will replace traditional static models to more efficiently discover and resolve emerging concerns, threats, and risks. The digital ecosystem eliminates legacy information silos, enabling integration across the enterprise at scale and modernizing traditional engineering functions.

“Digital engineering transforms every aspect of our work based on underlying repositories of authoritative and validated data that is used, reused, and updated in seamless ways. Any engineering analysis produced is entered into the repositories of data and analyses to be made available for use and reuse again.”

Dean Bucher, Principal Director of Digital Engineering Integration, Aerospace

Organizations across the space enterprise, and other civil and commercial enterprises, recognize digital engineering as the future of technology development, systems acquisition, and operations. Digital engineering is one of four key focus areas necessary to realize the Digital Space Force Vision. Digital engineering will enable “all personnel to act as ‘intrapreneurs,’ embracing digital technology, driving innovation, and pushing boundaries in how processes and operations are executed throughout the organization.”

The “digital twin” concept would enable operators to test, analyze and implement updates and upgrades to space assets much more efficiently without having to touch the hardware.

As an example, engineers operating in a digitally integrated environment will construct “digital twins” — digital replicas of physical space assets—that can then be used to test, analyze and implement updates and upgrades before touching the hardware. Drawing from authoritative sources of data, engineers can assess scenarios and potential outcomes through simulations representing real-world environments. The digital models can be reused and updated as a point of departure going forward, saving time and streamlining future processes for design, upgrades and improvements.

The promise of digital engineering is to streamline acquisition and address the growing complexity of the space enterprise, working off digital models and data with a more seamless connection between government and industry partners and their complex systems and associated digital twins.

Engineers at Aerospace launched a digital engineering test bed, known as Integrated Digital Engineering Prototype Testbed Hub (InDEPTH) two years ago, allowing Aerospace to develop a deep understanding of the capabilities and methodologies for implementing this digital-first approach.

InDEPTH leverages digital engineering principles to enable unified data integration and analysis across disparate systems and enterprises. Aerospace recently utilized the Space-Based Environmental Monitoring mission area to demonstrate the power of InDEPTH and digital engineering. The team integrated models and data from three agencies into the InDEPTH testbed environment to create a case study available to analysts, engineers, and decision makers—allowing leaders access to insights from across the enterprise. The team is now looking at pilot programs that will address the needs of the U.S. Space Force, NASA, NNSA, the Intelligence Community, and other organizations.

It is an early glimpse at the capabilities of digital engineering and a culture shift to move the entire industry in a direction where all space assets are driven by connections to data, models, and software that is continually updated and maintained.

Originally published at https://aerospace.org on August 23, 2021.

We operate the only federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) committed exclusively to the space enterprise.

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