Systems Engineering

Systems engineers are the ultimate cross-disciplinarians.  They are constantly applying their synergistic skills to synthesize information, manage integration, and understand enough of each subteam’s activity and status to cross-pollinate for system success. 

Systems engineering orchestrates the requirements, design, implementation, testing and verification that actualize and fly the MoonRanger mission.  Like conducting a symphony, systems engineering is more critical to creating a robotic masterpiece than any of the tributary players. Beyond rigorously and comprehensively driving, guiding, coordinating and controlling the robot’s development and programmatics, MoonRanger’s systems initiative additionally bootstraps the next generation of systems practitioners from within its student ranks.

Systems tracks and manages vast information and a myriad of moving parts in this complex project.  It cross-straps technologies, plans, schedules and budgets.  It ensures that system-level budgets like mass, thermal properties, and data volumes are kept accurate and current. Systems generates and disciplines the interfaces that are essential for integrating the science instrument to the rover, and the rover to its spacecraft/lander. Systems ensures that timelines are met, that  teams have what they need, and that nothing falls between the cracks. Systems engineers constantly communicate across subteams to detect changes and propose mitigations. Additionally, systems engineering is constantly identifying, evaluating, and tracking risks to the mission’s success.  

An example activity is replanning MoonRanger’s final environmental testing campaign (for launch vibration and shock, electromagnetic interference and compatibility, thermal vacuum environments, etc.).  This requires encyclopedic knowledge and mastery of process to formulate a program that generates test plans, meets NASA standards, validates lander compatibility, stays within lean project budget and meets deadline for delivery.

Although systems engineering is the even keel that disciplines development to the vision and requirements of the project, they are just as agile and effective as needed to address contingencies.  They continuously pivot to address evolving needs. MoonRanger is far from a cookie-cutter development of well-known precedent.  Rather, it epitomizes the class of unprecedented development that defies knowing beforehand what issues arrive or predicting when something will go wrong or why, Systems tracks everything within the project to insure success regardless of what complications arise.  Systems engineers more than any other insure that MoonRanger succeeds, and that its resulting whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.

By: Sarah Abrams