How MBSE is Used in Aerospace Engineering

Saying that aerospace engineering is complex is quite the understatement. To propel a spacecraft beyond our atmosphere, direct it to perform precise maneuvers in orbit, and align cross-functional teams to accomplish its safe return requires technical integration so sophisticated, it literally is rocket science. To achieve the level of coordination necessary for aerospace systems success, engineers rely on model-based systems engineering (MBSE).

What is MBSE?

MBSE is a systems engineering methodology for complex products that exchanges information, feedback, and requirements through descriptive and analytical modelling — rather than documents. From the conceptual design phase throughout the product life cycle, MBSE provides the end-to-end traceability, collaboration, task management, and reporting capabilities necessary for high-stakes aerospace missions to operate smoothly and successfully. MBSE combines a system architecture model and a traditional domain model to ensure the system meets all requirements through every life cycle phase.

Aerospace engineers are often tasked with developing mission-critical systems under strict budgets and time constraints. Within mission- and performance-critical, highly regulated industries such as aerospace, MBSE is essential to ensure the software code and subsystems are performing and achieving program, budgetary, and schedule goals.  

What are the Benefits of MBSE?

MBSE enables engineering organizations to manage the increasing complexity of the products they design and build. While traditional design practices can lead to cost overruns and missed deadlines, MBSE helps organizations get quality products to market on time and under budget.

By understanding how every design choice impacts the system across its life cycle, model-based systems engineering is able to:

  • Speed up time to market: Ensures the system design meets requirements, allows for further optimization, and delivers the most advanced capabilities most efficiently.
  • Reduce risk: Detects and corrects defects early in the design process to protect against cost and schedule overruns, and understand real-world performance.
  • Manage complexity: Enables engineers to share the details of their vision with all the technical stakeholders and ensure that all requirements are being met.
  • Improve collaboration: Facilitates communication of a shared vision across all stakeholders to reduce cost and risk, and increase design and operational efficiency.
  • Ensure safety: Makes sure the software code and subsystems are doing what they are supposed to. MBSE fully integrates standards into core processes.

Model-Based Systems Engineering Examples

The United Stated Department of Defense (DoD) recognizes the benefits of MBSE and is mandating its use on major weapons programs. For example, the United States Air Force (USAF) required their contractors to utilize MBSE on their $50 billion+ Ground Based Strategic Defense (GBSD) program. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the organization that designs complex and technically risky spacecraft and missions, is also a leading adopter of MBSE.

Lockheed Martin Space simulates spacecraft’s mission trajectory

Preparing for the OSIRIS-REx mission required months of testing, modelling, and analysing. To achieve its objective of landing a spacecraft on the surface of Bennu, collecting a sample and returning it safely to Earth, NASA contracted Lockheed Martin Space (LMS) to integrate complex operations across the entire mission.

See how LMS developed a model-based systems engineering architecture to sequence an entire week of maneuvers against multiple variables and events in this white paper.

Northrop Grumman develops multidisciplinary phased array antenna

A US-based aerospace and defense contractor that provides technology solutions primarily for government customers, Northrop Grumman was tasked by the Department of Defense to solve for performance and cost constraints of its phased array antenna sensor systems used for wireless communication, radar, and electronic warfare.

Learn how MBSE helped Northrop Grumman design a complex phased array antenna system, improve quality, reduce design time, and reduce costs.

Join our Ansys MBSE Webinar on 28 May 2024 – By attending this webinar, engineers will gain insight into leveraging MBSE methodologies to efficiently manage complexity, mitigate risks and ultimately deliver high-quality, innovative products and systems.

Register Here: Events for May 2024 – Qfinsoft

A Shared System That Connects Discipline Models

MBSE is a key driver for digital transformation initiatives in aerospace as it designs systems that must operate in high-risk environments while managing costs. As the system design progresses from concept to prototype, the more complex the system becomes, the more data is generated, and the more critical MBSE becomes.

Ansys MBSE solutions connect simulation to the systems architecture model throughout the product life cycle, enablingengineers to identify potential problems earlier and assuring that the system works as designed. Organizations can use Ansys products such as ModelCenterSystems Tool Kit (STK)SCADEmedini analyze, and optiSLang to implement MBSE processes and design optimized and safe hardware and software systems and missions.


Elizabeth Evans

Manager Product Marketing, Ansys

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