Before launch: All systems go

How modeling and simulation prepares space missions for success

Wireframe sim of the Earth

Raytheon Technologies uses modeling and simulation tools to optimize sensors and systems before they are even built to see if they can perform in the harsh environment of space.

When it comes to space sensors and systems, there’s only one shot to get it right. Modeling and simulation lets engineers “test out” new technology on Earth – before building any hardware.

To prepare a space system for mission success, engineers need to make sure everything will work as intended long before it reaches orbit. Raytheon Technologies uses modeling and simulation tools, often called mod and sim, to perform studies that help optimize a system’s performance before it’s built.

“Many people don’t understand what space systems do – let alone how they work – but mod and sim changes that by allowing you to visualize the mission,” said Wallis Laughrey, vice president for Space Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, one of four business that form Raytheon Technologies. “We’re looking at more than whether or not a system works. We can assess how an entire low-Earth-orbit constellation performs an end-to-end mission.”

Performing mod and sim studies rely on a variety of data about the system and the architecture, or the overall structure, of the systems contributing to the mission. It uses software tools, algorithms and mission domain expertise to analyze and assess how well a system will perform once it’s on orbit.

Last year, Raytheon, a predecessor company to Raytheon Technologies, received a key contract. Raytheon used mod and sim tools to do architecture trade studies that assessed mission performance in different scenarios involving ballistic missiles and other advanced threats. The studies leveraged Raytheon Intelligence & Space’s boost-to-intercept missile warning and defense capabilities – the ability to see a threat from the moment it launches to the moment it’s destroyed.

“We basically looked at the building blocks of the proposed space layer in a mission context,” said Mark Davis, mission system architecting director for Space Systems. “Our mission architecting and mod and sim team addressed questions like, How many satellites do we need? What’s the right orbit to optimize tracking performance? How much sensitivity does each sensor need? How should data get to the end user?, and of course: How much would the overall architecture cost?”

Beyond national security missions, Raytheon Intelligence & Spaces uses its mod and sim tools for every space sensor, from commercial imagery to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Raytheon Technologies’ tools can also help reduce execution risks by identifying what needs design improvement early in the development process. And they can improve a customers’ concept of operations.

Mod and sim can demonstrate how well different architectures and approaches perform, which can ultimately inform the requirements needed for a mission. It can also improve how customers use new technology and how much investment should be made.

“Mod and sim requires a lot of really good engineering, physics and math,” said Laughrey. “Because of it, we can confidently assess the performance of a system before it even launches, ensuring our systems work the first time, every time.”

Published On: 04/27/2020