Systems Engineering Seminar

Lessons Learned in Systems Engineering Availability and Recommendations for Mission Technical Leaders

Presented by:
Charles Baker, Code 599,
Project Systems Engineer for Landsat 9 Project

Photo of Charles Baker

Wednesday, February 16, 2022 - 1:00pm (ET)

Meeting number (access code): 2762 386 4556
Meeting password: SeS@NASA22
Join by phone - 415-527-5035 (US Toll)


In spaceflight missions at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), the Mission System Engineer (MSE) is the technical leader of the overall engineering team and is the Independent Engineering Technical Authority. The responsibility of this role includes the definition of the mission design architecture, concept of operations, and mission requirements, management of risk throughout the development, and verification and validation of the final system performance and function amongst other duties. This responsibility inherently requires time management, enabling focus on a balanced development with appropriate risk. Time is the most valuable resource of the MSE.

The system engineer’s availability to interact with the development team (often product or component design leads and technicians, often in different worksites) to discover and mitigate mission risks during development is key to mission success. This paper presents examples from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Landsat 9, and Neutron star Interior Composition ExploreR (NICER) which represent in-house and out-of-house hardware builds. These examples demonstrate how interactions between the Mission Systems Engineers and other project and partner engineers result in discovery of critical risks, leading to early mitigation with significant cost and performance savings. These three missions would have suffered test failures or on-orbit failures had their MSEs not set aside time to visit engineers and technicians that were working on key pieces of space flight hardware.

Availability is more than just time; it is openness to listen to concerns and questions. It begins by building a level of trust in the team that it is safe to ask questions or share concerns without the fear of blame or additional workload. It also requires enabling informal conversations (over lunch, coffee, in the clean room, or at the team members desk, etc.) where key information can be exchanged, and team members may even provide an easy-to-implement mitigation idea for another subsystem.

Availability is a highly valuable commodity and completely non-obvious to protect and optimize. The natural tendency of engineers is to keep themselves busy with solving problems that they know about. This paper is encouraging MSEs to resist this tendency to try and solve all the complex problems themselves and actively devote daily time to learning and solving problems that are found with informal communications with other team members.


Charles Baker is currently the Project Systems Engineer for Landsat 9 Project (currently in Phase D), Project Systems Engineer leading technical support for Astrophysics Explorer Neutron Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) during Phase E, and the Thermal Systems Engineer leading technical support for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) during Phase E.

Charles has been working schedule/cost-constrained Planetary, Heliophysics, Earth Science, and Astrophysics Missions since 1998. He has worked on in-house missions (ICESat-2 (GLAS instrument), LRO, NICER) and out-of-house missions (Lucy, Landsat 9). Additionally, he has worked with Universities, Other Centers, Private Corporations (large and small), and international institutions to enable missions to be successful.

He received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and graduate work in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota.


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