Identifying the System and Introduction to Systems Engineering

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Let’s start by identifying the system for your project. A system is a collection of interconnected elements that fulfil a set of objectives. You may decide to build a satellite in which case, the satellite is your system. Whereas, if you are designing instruments that are to be part of a satellite or are to be mounted on stage 4 of PSLV, then these instruments are your system. In a vague sense, the system is defined by what your team and the organization as a whole, is focused on, for the particular project. For example, a team in ISRO which designs launch vehicles, consider the launch vehicle as the system and the satellite being launched are payloads, while another team in ISRO responsible for designing the satellite has satellite as the system.

The first task at hand is to identify what is the focus of the organization - based on this, the team will choose a project. For example, the Student Satellite Program, IIT Bombay has the vision to convert IIT Bombay into Centre of Excellence in Space Science & Technology. Towards this vision, the team conceived, planned, designed and launched the first satellite, Pratham. Currently, in line with this vision, the team is working on several projects - ranging from designing of COTS subsystems for CubeSats, to design experiments that can be performed on the lunar surface. A detailed discussion on selecting a mission and a payload for a student satellite project can be found here. For each of the projects a system has to be defined. Along with the system, what lies outside the system is also defined along with how it interfaces with the system.

Once a system is defined, the stakeholders involved with the project are to be identified. Stakeholders can be living and non-living entities. Stakeholders are anyone and everyone who will be impacted positively and negatively because of the existence, operation, failure, and disposal of the system. This includes those entities which can influence the system like the local government authorities, regulation bodies, and competitors. All these stakeholders expect something or get affected by the system or impose some constraints on the system. Before the system is designed, these are to be enlisted carefully. Priority needs to be set to each expectation and constraints - some of them will be negotiable while some of them cannot be negotiated.

As mentioned above, the system is designed so as to fulfil a set of objectives. These objectives are to be defined precisely - a metric for how they will be quantified has to be identified. This metric should be repeatable and if possible, standardized. These well-defined sets of objectives will translate to the performance parameters which your system should meet. If the objectives are poorly defined, then the system designed may overachieve or under-achieve them - in either case, this is undesirable.

Before beginning to work on your project, it is important that sufficient preliminary background is built about the kind of system being dealt with. Several case studies are available which can help you build this. Consulting domain experts to gain some inputs and clarify queries helps in the process. Once the system has been defined, the process can be streamlined through the principles of systems engineering.

Introduction to Systems Engineering

Systems engineering is an important discipline which is responsible for performing the technical management of a project throughout its life cycle. It is a management methodology that controls the processes consisting of the definition, development, and the deployment of a system to meet the customer objectives with the best outcome. It basically helps us to look at the big picture instead of focussing on a particular aspect.

Role of Systems Engineer

A systems engineer is responsible for ensuring that the correct practices are followed, their detailed responsibilities are given below:

  • Development of the system architecture
  • Defining and allocating requirements on the system
  • Evaluating trade-offs in the design of the system
  • Balancing technical risk between systems
  • Defining and assessing interfaces
  • Providing oversight of verification and validation activities
  • To ensure proper documentation of the project like have a system engineering management plan, requirements and specification documents, verification and validation documents, types of technical measurements, certification packages, etc.

Several examples, some related to satellites as a system, are discussed throughout this section of the wiki. In the following articles, you can find out more about the Systems Engineering Life Cycle, which can help bring about structure to your project.

If you are done reading this page, you can go back to Starting a Student Satellite Project.