An Introduction to Systems Engineering

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Systems engineering is a discipline concerned with the integration of multiple interrelated systems. Any significant project is composed of many different parts which must be completed separately, but all of which must work in harmony in the final design. It is the job of a systems engineer to balance and define the requirements of each subsystem to achieve the best possible final design. The engineers within each subsystem are tasked with optimizing their piece of the project under the given constraints with regard to the project as a whole. In this essay, we will give a more full and formal definition of systems engineering, discuss the impact of systems engineering on the technical workplace, and provide some examples of its use in our personal experience.

In its Systems Engineering Handbook2, NASA gives the definition: “Systems engineering is a methodical, disciplined approach for the design, realization, technical management, operations, and retirement of a system. A “system” is a construct or collection of different elements that together produce results not obtainable by the elements alone.” Systems engineering is the link between all processes — design, technical management, and product realization — of a project. Without it, projects would never reach their fullest potentials. Figure 1, also excerpted from the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook, shows the 17 main systems engineering processes, broken down by category.
As an example, consider the development of a space vehicle. Electrical engineers will design a power and communications system; software engineers will program the computer architecture to use and control these systems; mechanical engineers will provide structure and stability for the platform; aerospace engineers will build propulsion systems; and many other groups as well will contribute to the complex task. Each of these groups will want to produce the best subsystem they can in their own right, but the best or simplest subsystem will

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