June 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
June 26, 2013
23.181.1 - 23.181.6
An Introductory Course in Practical Systems EngineeringAbstractGood systems engineering is essential for the effective design, fabrication, testing and operationof complex systems such as spacecraft. However, teaching good systems engineering toundergraduates is often viewed as either impossible (because it must be developed in real,professional settings) or impractical (because it requires sophisticated tools that are best coveredat the Masters level). While we do not dispute that becoming a good systems engineer requiresyears of practical experience and solid technical fundamentals, we believe that undergraduatesare capable of learning some of the fundamental tools and applying them to relevant projects.We have developed a two-semester course sequence for entry-level engineering students (i.e.freshmen and sophomores). The first semester is a 2-credit course, consisting of a 1-creditclassroom lecture and a 1-credit laboratory element; the second semester is a 1-credit laboratorycourse. The classroom portion is a seminar-style presentation of systems engineering tools suchas requirements flow, work breakdown structures, design drivers, trade studies and riskassessment. For the laboratory portion of both semesters, the students apply these tools inongoing student-led space projects: high-altitude balloon experiments, microgravity tests and aseries of student-built spacecraft. We believe that blending a subset of systems engineering toolswith small but real-world, achievable missions will give them practical experience.In this paper, we will review the typical approaches to giving students hands-on projectexperience: informal clubs, participation in national competitions, paid internships and course-based projects. We will assess the strengths and shortcomings of these methods, motivating ourapproach to the course. We will provide an outline of our two-semester space projects course andthe specific objectives it will meet. We will review the results of the course to date, and provideshort-term assessment of the courses' usefulness.
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