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Surrey Satellite’s Systems Engineering Approach: from Mission Concept to Satellite Operations

Systems engineering: a logical sequence of activities and decisions that transforms an operational need into a description of system performance parameters and a preferred system configuration (MIL-STD 499A, Engineering Management, 1 May 1974).
Systems engineers Matt Yavorsky (at left) and Tyler Murphy at work on the mechanical build of Surrey’s OTB satellite
In the world of aerospace, most system engineers take on the activities of system engineering on a limited basis; that is, they apply their skills to a particular phase of a mission or program and often on a singular process or technical area. However, at Surrey Satellite, our system engineers play an expanded role: they are involved in mission programs from early concept right through to mission operations. A Surrey systems engineer is a jack of all trades and the master of, well, many trades. From early stage bid, concept development, design, AI&T, launch, through to operations, our engineers are involved and stay invested throughout each program. They develop and manage the end-to-end system requirements and provide technical insight to the program managers and subsystem specialists to help them make informed decisions. This approach adds rigidity to the technical design and ensures cohesive and efficient satellite systems. Having the technical breadth to “float” among technical areas facilitates idea sharing, risk awareness and management, and gap filling if and when needs arise.

We interviewed Surrey US’s systems engineer Matt Yavorsky in an attempt to illustrate the role of the systems engineer at Surrey and how an expanded systems engineering role allows the team to work more efficiently and productively while manifesting an enjoyable work environment. Matt is presently the lead systems engineer on Surrey’s OTB (Orbital Test Bed) program currently in the AI&T phase in the Surrey US high bay in Englewood, Colorado.
Surrey: Matt— please give us a bit of background on yourself (school, degree, area of focus at university)?
Matt: “I began at the main campus of Penn State University in the fall of 2005 and graduated in 2009 with a BS in aerospace engineering, with an emphasis on astronautics. After taking a semester off, I started at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2010, where I received an MS in aerospace engineering in 2012. My focus area at CU was astrodynamics and satellite navigation systems.”  

Surrey: How did your education/degree/studies prepare you for this position?
Matt: “Having been fortunate enough to attend two universities with great aerospace programs, I feel like I was well prepared for what I’m doing now. I find myself all the time reaching for an old textbook or remembering something from a class to help solve a design problem. During grad school I was also part of a small team of students that had to design, build, and eventually launch a cubesat (MinXSS— launching this year), which was a terrific experience. The expectations for the team were very high, and our work was reviewed and critiqued by professionals along the way. It was a valuable preview of the kind of thing I see every day now in the industry.”

Surrey: What do your day-to-day activities look like as a systems engineer at Surrey?
Matt: “One of the great things about working at Surrey is how many different activities the engineers become involved in. With our OTB satellite now in the clean room, my main day-to-day role is continuing with the AI&T phase of the program—writing procedures, testing the spacecraft, and making sure that mission requirements are being met. I also help with the mechanical build of the spacecraft when needed—it’s great to be able to get away from the desk once in a while for some hands-on work. Prior to this, I was responsible for mission design and analysis for OTB, using STK and a number of other tools, which I still go back to occasionally. The rest of my time is spent answering e-mail, making phone calls, preparing reports or presentation material, attending meetings, and occasionally attending technical conferences.”

Surrey: What is your role in concept development and program bids?
Matt: “I spend a lot of my time on OTB, but I continue to be involved in concept development, program bids, and feasibility studies. Systems engineers at Surrey are involved in the entire lifecycle of a program, and the initial concept definition, where requirements are set, is a big part of that. It’s our job to push back and challenge requirements that might not be necessary to ensure that we are delivering a satellite that can meet the customer’s needs.”

Surrey: What’s next for OTB?
Matt: “The next major milestone for OTB is environmental testing, during which the entire team will be relocating to the test facility for about a month for round-the-clock testing of the spacecraft. We will then come back to Englewood for final testing before moving everything to Cape Canaveral for launch, expected late next year. It’s a very exciting time to be a systems engineer here at Surrey US.”

No two days are ever the same for Surrey systems engineers—they provide systems engineering from concept and bid stage through to on-orbit support for all types of space missions from LEO to GEO and beyond. Our cradle-to-grave, pragmatic approach to systems engineering is unique in the industry, but at the core of our technical and programmatic success…just another part of how we are changing the economics of space.


16 November 20150 Comments1 Comment

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