Space exploration was an engine for innovative technology growth, pushing technological boundaries at the dawn of the space age to find ways to engineer, test, and validate the launch vehicles, spacecraft, lunar rovers, and equipment to facilitate life in space. Since then, the space industry has continued to evolve those technologies, yet, has been slow to adopt the natural offspring of many innovations it had spawned—digital design and validation—relying still on physical testing to inform engineering decisions. How can the space industry continue building safe products without that environmentally-unfriendly reliance on physical testing? Additionally, how can they test things, like device performance in microgravity, that simply can’t be tested here on earth? Continuing with 20th-century solutions to these challenges cost the industry big money and lots of time but, in the worst cases, risks human lives.
As computers and computer-aided design & engineering initially grew, the automotive industry was the major beneficiary of that technology. Initially, computer simulation of mass-market, high-production volume products was the best use of this emerging technology, while building complex computer simulations of one-of-a-kind single-use products was less efficient than building the actual products. Now that computation is ubiquitous, and high-power computers live in nearly every pocket, this practice of reliance on physical testing instead of simulation seems antiquated and is recognizably dangerous.
We decided to host a couple of webinars to share our contributions to the space industry. Instead, we ended up with enough value to define a multi-session, multi-track webinar series. Which we broke out into several tracks defined by where that value impacted the lifecycle of space-bound products.
In an industry where every kilogram added to a spacecraft increases payload cost by potentially tens of thousands of Euros, Dollars, Yen, or half a bitcoin. The lessons we have learned from virtual prototyping and manufacturing engineering of lightweight and high-strength components pay big dividends.
Our peers in metal forming shared with us how digital engineering methods, perfected from years of application to terrestrial products, can improve future space products. Stamping simulation enables engineers to design, test, and validate part designs stamped from materials that cost thousands per kilo and are so strong that they can only be safely deformed at red-hot temperatures. They shared examples of how the application of metal forming, composites, casting, welding, and joining simulations could be applied to ensure the manufacturability of space-bound products, but also improve the performance predictions of those new and emerging vehicles for safer, more effective flight.
In another session, we show how virtual reality can be applied to validate the assembly and construction of future products long before the first tools are made, or components fabricated. By performing virtual reality assembly reviews, we can prove (or disprove) that a proposed space capsule, or rocket, or other new space industry output can be produced safely by the people who need to build the one-of-a-kind product; without risk to the new product or the people evaluating it.
Our peers in Vibroacoustic and Dynamic Simulation domains showed how their engineering solutions further inform the engineering and design process, by enabling the kinds of testing that, half a century ago, had space agencies putting dogs, monkeys, and intrepid test pilots into pre-production prototypes. They shared experiences and real examples of how, through simulating various ranges of acoustic frequencies and responses in digital modeling environments, we could limit our reliance on complex and expensive physical testing. In some cases, digital testing even outperforms physical testing for its ability to evaluate the next decision for the engineers responsible for defining launch vehicles and crew compartments.
They shared concepts about the co-simulation, coupling, and chaining of simulations to give better predictions of how these rockets and other products would perform in their as-engineered vs. as-built conditions. This demonstrated how the learnings from engineering analysis from the design and manufacturing engineering of these spacecraft, could be included in the analysis of product performance on the launch pad and during flight.
Then we collected additional project learnings to share how using simulation allows us to test things that are just plain impossible to conduct as tests here on earth. How will the systems we built on earth behave in microgravity, what is happening behind the console when operators install, remove, or service components “in the field”. Can we predict with confidence that we can safely recover the crew and their vehicle; what will need to be replaced, refurbished, and reused for the future spacecraft?
We even imagined, what could be done from Earth if we needed to advise the remote crew on how to perform unplanned and unforeseen maintenance or service on the vessels, once they are millions of kilometers from the experts who built them. We showed how we could potentially use virtual reality models of the crewed vessel to perform ad-hoc teardown and reassembly of that one-of-a-kind object, without putting those unique assets and the safety of those around them at risk.
It turns out that there are many opportunities remaining to expand how engineers and designers are planning, evaluating, and validating future space exploration products. A sampling of the value to be reached through the application of digital and numerical methods is captured for your viewing through our On-Demand Space Series 2020. This series covers everything from anticipating manufacturing process-related issues to predicting launch pad acoustics or flight dynamics, from integrating new and novel components to evaluating spacecraft accessibility & serviceability.
Subscribe to the blog and follow us for the “relaunch” of the Space Series as we explore and expand on the conversations we captured in the webinar with a series of blog posts. And join our upcoming Live Space Webinar Series 2021!