How NASA is able to lands on Mars

On February 18th, 2021, N.A.S.A. had its latest successful landing of an interplanetary probe. What makes this landing even more impressive is that like their last landing, they used a “first time” method for getting the rover to the surface.

This string of successes can be attributed to the systems engineering processes embodied in this guide. The NASA Systems Engineering Handbook has been on my MBD bookshelf for a long time, and I’m happy to say that in January of 2021 they updated the guide.

Thoughts on the updated guide

The last update to the guide was in 2007. Systems engineering has grown considerably in the use and complexity of the systems in that time. Today I want to focus on one section of the document, 5.0 Product Realization. There is a breakdown of the realization steps into 5 sub-steps: Implementation, Integration, Verification, Validation, and Transition.

  • Implementation:
    • The “Acquire” section has increased considerably in recognition that complex software and hardware is now more readily purchasable.
    • The reuse section dives into the additional work required to successfully revamp existing software for reuse. It provides key insights into what needs to be done for reintegration.
  • Integration
    • The key insight from this section is that integration is a series of integrations, from lower level components to the final product integration.
  • Verification and Validation
    • As always, NASA’s description of Verification and Validation steps is the clearest out there.
    • The outline of how to create a verification and validation plan should be considered the gold standard for V&V activities.
  • Transition
    • Transitioning is often neglected in large projects; it is assumed that a verified and validated product will be useable by the end team.
    • This document lays out the training, documentation and “on delivered team verification” required for success in delivery.

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