Building bridges to bring the global supply chain to life for space mission design

Bridging the global space supply chain
Bridging the global space supply chain (Credit: SupplyChain247.com).

Knowledge provided by suppliers is integral to the space mission design process. The information shared by suppliers on systems, subsystems, components and their space heritage is utilized by engineers for concept generation & design, through to ground operations & on-orbit mission management. Today, this kind of input data to the design process is communicated through documents like datasheets, Interface Control Documents (ICDs), and technical manuals, typically in PDF form. Datasheets are generally made available on suppliers’ websites. A small portion of suppliers also provide Computer-Aided Design (CAD) models and ICDs online, however this is still the exception rather than the rule. Tracking down this information is a time-consuming and frustrating task in general. The lack of consolidation of supply chain information across the space industry has a bullwhip effect on the amount of time engineers spend searching. This has a direct knock-on effect on the design lifecycle of space missions.

As the velocity, veracity, volume and variety of space missions continue to grow rapidly, engineers are faced with a surge of supply chain information, stemming from an explosion of suppliers, products, services, and technologies on the market. This rapid growth of supply chain knowledge is not a unique feature of the space industry. Many other mature industries including consumer electronics, automobile, and aviation have had to deal with these growing pains. Such rapid industry expansion often generates information aggregation and consolidation efforts, leading to digital platforms like Octopart and Airframer.

The domains within the space industry that satsearch aims to impact
The domains within the space industry that satsearch aims to impact.

Most platforms consolidate engineering and supply chain knowledge that is ultimately still locked within unstructured documents, like PDFs. This means that engineers still have to grapple with finding ways to populate their tools and workflow with this information; often an arduous, laborious, manual effort. In other words, the frustration does not end with finding the PDFs. The information embedded in these PDF documents has to be extracted, to be available for a variety of functions including design, analysis, simulation, planning, procurement, and knowledge management.

This type of information takes on different forms and functions across the lifecycle of a mission. For example, the exploitation of supply chain information by a systems engineering team, working on preliminary design of a mission concept through a concurrent engineering approach, is very different from the manner in which a space operations team would seek to utilize the same knowledge. The former is typically concerned with quickly iterating through various system-level designs and evaluating feasibility based on the overarching goals that need to be achieved by a mission, while the latter is focussed on analyzing health data from a satellite and benchmarking against the design specifications, to detect failure and flag anomalies.

In both of these scenarios, users need to tap into the same supply chain knowledge captured within datasheets, ICDs, technical manuals, etc., but from the vantage point of data exploitation both cases are markedly different. Similarly, in other areas of the lifecycle of a space mission, like modeling & simulation, flight heritage management, etc., the same supply chain information needs to be exploited in wide-ranging ways. Hence, one of the fundamental challenges in exploiting supply chain information boils down to building tools on top of an agnostic knowledge platform that helps users with differing requirements across the mission lifecycle effectively tap into the global supply chain.

Supply chain information flows across the space mission lifecycle
Supply chain information flows across the space mission lifecycle (Credit: T. Maury).

The space industry has a chance now to leapfrog other industries to achieve this goal by adopting standardized Electronic Data Sheets (EDS). As discussed in a previous blog article, EDS technology is key to building tools that leverage automation and intelligence for different phases of the lifecycle of a mission, because it promises to bring information “alive” by allowing seamless transfer and use across the various functions mentioned above. For space mission design, EDS is supports and enables further adoption of Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE), which is geared towards shifting from a document-centric to model-centric design paradigm. By unlocking information that is currently stored in unstructured documents, like PDFs, EDS applied to the global supply chain can truly change the way in which users engage with stakeholders across the ecosystem. EDS is in many ways a living and functioning organism that breathes life into the design process. The fundamental challenge ahead is to figure out how to transition the industry to this future.

There are two sides to the coin of bringing life to the supply chain through EDS. On the one hand, the completeness, correctness, and reliability of product information captured is of paramount importance. Unfortunately, the documents provided by suppliers don’t easily support automatic and independent verification and validation. EDS will help consolidate specifications, CAD models, ICDs, etc., and generate greater transparency, reliability, and insight. This in turn will make life significantly easier for engineers and mission managers that need to make critical technical and managerial decisions on selection of the right products and suppliers.

The other side of the coin pertains to how EDS can be utilized to embed supply chain knowledge across the mission lifecycle, enabling deep design automation. By leveraging the cloud, one inventive way of achieving this is by making EDS available through standardized Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Once the consolidated specifications are made available through APIs, the value they serve to engineers multiplies, since they can now skip the entire manual process of soliciting and translating information from suppliers. Satsearch is already serving such information through our API to RHEA Group’s Concurrent Design Platform 4 (CDP4TM) and Valispace, with a host of other integrations in the pipeline, including with Saber Astronautics’ P.I.G.I., CNES’ IDM-CIC, MATLAB, Microsoft Excel, and many more.

The growing satsearch software integration ecosystem.
The growing satsearch software integration ecosystem.

This approach towards structuring and embedding supply chain information creates a lot of extrinsic value in the ecosystem that comes as a byproduct of opening up the global supply chain to end users. For example, there are over five hundred suppliers in the Indian space supply chain and the majority of engineers outside the Indian subcontinent have no way of accessing the products, services, and technologies available within this ecosystem. The same goes for markets like China, Russia, and Japan, where opening up the supply chain through a consolidated platform can help generate value for end users by enabling better decision-making. By democratizing and streamlining access to the global supply chain through digitalization, the ecosystem will evolve towards a more competitive landscape, driving innovation for next-generation space missions, particularly within the commercial sector.

By investing in a platform that brings the global supply chain to life, the ability to spin in and spin out the underlying Intellectual Property (IP) also drastically improves. Through the implementation of EDS technology, there is an opportunity to open up access to the space supply chain and enable transfer of IP to and from allied, high-technology sectors such as drones, aviation, etc.

The vision at satsearch is the propel the growth of the space industry by building the missing data layer that is key to opening up the global space supply chain. Digitalization tools and technologies are ideally suited to this mission and present a real opportunity to power growth over the coming decade by building bridges that breathe new life into the space mission design.

Interesting in partnering with us to build cutting-edge software integrations to bring the global space supply chain to life? Send me an email and I’d love to have a chat!

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