Archive for April, 2011

29 April, 2011

Perhaps it is not surprising that mil/aero industry news in April, which included both Earth Day and Arbor Day, had an environmental focus. In particular, news coming out of organizations within the U.S. Federal Government, including the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), centered on recent environmental efforts to lessen the carbon footprint and environmental impact of common activities.

The DoD and FAA, both of which are notorious for using and requiring mountains of printed information—from frequently updated charts and maps to comprehensive volumes of training manuals—are going digital. In doing so, they aim to lessen their significant and costly investment in printed materials. Rather than hard-copy manuals, printed aviation route maps and aeronautical charts, pilots and mechanics, for example, will be armed with tablet computers.

Much of the industry has responded with “it’s about time,” but others are leery of the change—particularly if it involves a move to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS), rather than military-standard (MIL-STD) computers, especially given that the latter is built from the ground up to be both rugged and secure.

FAA officials recently set an important precedent for the aviation community when it permitted the use of the Jeppesen Mobile TC App for iPad as an alternative to printed aeronautical charts. Specifically, the FAA granted Executive Jet Management, a provider of worldwide jet charter and aircraft management services, the use of Apple’s iPad tablet computer and the Jeppesen Mobile TC App, a mobile application, as the sole reference for electronic charts, including during taxi, takeoff, and landing.

Jeppesen Aviation iPad App

Jeppesen Aviation iPad App

A three-month, in-flight evaluation—managed by Executive Jet Management and Jeppesen, with engagement of the FAA, as well as local and national Electronic Flight Bag authorities—took place prior to permission being granted. Still, this geek is dubious whether he would knowingly put his life in the hands of an iPad. Would you?

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27 April, 2011

Embedded systems and software engineers lag information technology (IT) professionals in the use of formal requirements-management tools across the development cycle, VDC Research Group in Natick, Mass., reveals in its new report on requirements management and definition tools.

More than 40 percent of embedded engineers surveyed do not use formal tools for various requirements engineering tasks. Enterprise/IT software engineers, however, reported “higher use saturation than those embedded engineers who do employ these tools,” according to VDC Research.

“Despite the high level of complexity in today’s embedded systems, embedded engineers have fallen behind enterprise/IT software developers in the use of requirements management and definition tools,” explains Chris Rommel, senior analyst of VDC Research’s Embedded Software and Tools practice. “But we are already seeing this dynamic change as more embedded engineering organizations look for ways to address the growth in device software complexity and maintain and improve engineering efficiency and product quality.”

Much has changed, and with it also the roles of embedded systems engineers and the development process. So, too, have regulations and requirements grown, especially in the military & aerospace (mil/aero) industry.

Embedded systems and software engineers traditionally “had discrete roles focused on specific engineering tasks that subsequently required the use of point products targeted at specific engineering problems,” a VDC Research representative describes. Today, engineers working on embedded systems are increasingly being called upon to perform myriad (if not all) functions in the end-to-end product development lifecycle. As a result, and exacerbated by the hefty fines being levied on those not complying with regulations and requirements, engineers are increasingly reliant upon comprehensive software tools—tailored not only to system design and development, but also to systems testing and validation, as well as requirements management.


If you’re not already using such tools, be certain to look into Mentor Graphics’ SystemVision and BridgePoint, enabling model-driven systems development, and ReqTracer, which automates requirements tracking and reporting.

This geek has been down this road many times, implementing a wide range of ERP, PLM, PDM, or myriad other acronyms used to describe requirement, resource, data, or product management suites. It is inevitable in our world of increasing complexities that software of this nature is required to 1) enable us to produce and provide consistent, error-free, and reliable products and services, and 2) helps us keep our sanity (opposed to having to track and check millions of lines of code, for example). Forward-thinking companies such as Mentor Graphics offer unique, innovative, and often automated tools that are always on the cutting edge so we can continue to do and focus on what we do best: design and offer unparalleled products and services as we careen into the future on this little rock we call Earth.

2010 Software & System Lifecycle Management Tools Market Intelligence Service, Volume 3: Requirements Management & Definition Tools” is now available for purchase from VDC Research Group.

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26 April, 2011

When the Space Shuttle retires as scheduled in June, NASA will be dependent on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Based on a recent $753 million contract NASA awarded to the Russian Federal Space Agency, these outsourced services cost U.S. taxpayers roughly $63 million per seat.

It’s doubtless a hefty price tag, but NASA lacks U.S.-based alternatives—so far, anyway. American businesses are, nonetheless, vying for agency funds with which to advance U.S.-built spacecraft and related technologies. Such a contract was just announced; yet, the contract amount is but 10 percent of that awarded to Russia’s space agency.

Soyuz TMA-7 Spacecraft

Soyuz TMA-7 Spacecraft

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) won a $75 million, Congressionally mandated award from NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative started in 2009. NASA’s CCDev awards are intended to stimulate efforts within the private sector, encouraging the development, maturation, and demonstration of human spaceflight technologies and capabilities.

Under this specific contract award, SpaceX will develop a launch escape system for its Dragon, enabling the company’s spacecraft to carry astronauts. Considered by many to be the Space Shuttle’s successor, Dragon is designed to carry seven astronauts to the space station, the cost of which would be $20 million a seat, reveals a spokesperson.

“This award will accelerate our efforts to develop the next-generation rockets and spacecraft for human transportation,” explains Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief designer. “With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014.”

This geek, dedicated to fostering innovation in the U.S., calls out to his brethren: engineers, computer scientists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, and systems integrators and systems architects; U.S.-based companies such as SpaceX in Texas, Virgin Galactic in New Mexico, and Boeing in the Northwest; technology companies, such as Mentor Graphics and others, offering tools for designing and developing radiation-hardened tools and spacecraft avionics. Let’s bring that nearly $1 billion dollars back to the U.S. Let’s fly Americans to space aboard private spacecraft conceived, designed, and developed right here in the U.S.

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22 April, 2011

Decades ago, the United States and the Soviet Union were in competition, battling for superiority in the space race and demonstrating scientific prowess, technological capabilities, and power. Now fodder for the history books, the space race bred myriad advancements through competition; today, in a time of budget cuts, the U.S. is paying Russia for help when it comes to human spaceflight.

NASA officials have signed a $753 million modification to its current International Space Station (ISS) contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew transportation, rescue, and related services from 2014 through June 2016. The firm fixed price modification calls for Soyuz support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing, and crew rescue of long-duration missions for 12 individual space station crew members.

Russian Soyuz launch vehicle

Russian Soyuz launch vehicle

Interestingly, the Soyuz was originally built in the 1960s (in the heat of the space race) as part of the Soviet Manned Lunar Program (although its first mission was unmanned).

NASA engineers are working to develop an American-made commercial capability for crew transportation and rescue services to the station following this year’s retirement of the space shuttle fleet. The goal is to become less dependent, if at all reliant, on foreign support; to this end, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is stressing the importance of and calling for American-made alternatives.

“The president’s 2012 budget request boosts funding for our partnership with the commercial space industry and prioritizes our efforts to ensure that American astronauts and the cargo they need are transported by American companies rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments,” Bolden says. “This new approach in getting our crews and cargo into orbit will create good jobs and expand opportunities for our American economy. If we are to win the future and out build our competitors, it’s essential that we make this program a success.”

This geek hopes the agency puts their money where their mouth is, and invests as significantly (if not more so) in U.S.-based firms, jobs, and R&D.

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19 April, 2011

This geek is in love with the developing private space flight industry. If you haven’t been an avid follower, my previous blogs on the President’s 2012 Budget Request for NASA and the latest announcements from X Prize, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic can get you up to speed.

It is terribly exciting to witness technological advancements stemming from private investment, commercial successes pioneering research and development, and NASA partnering with industry to keep moving the industry forward.

It is moving forward, but it often seems at a snail’s pace.

One essential aspect of the equation appears to be lacking: a catalyst to speed things up. The President’s 2012 Budget Request reduces the funds available to NASA to 2010 levels, but it directs more funds for collaboration between NASA and commercial industry researchers, scientists, and engineers. Perhaps this move will give the space market a much-needed shot in the arm.

rocketsnail a medium pace.

I am often tempted to call it the “space race.” Perhaps it’s because the rhythmic phrase rolls off the tongue, or because it was a phrase commonly heard in my youth. The space race refers to a specific period (1957 through 1975) during which the U.S. and U.S.S.R. (not yet Russia) informally competed to send humans into space.

Times have certainly changed.

When I was small, it never occurred to me that anyone in the U.S., other than NASA officials, could possibly put people in space. Nor could I envision people and companies in the private sector building their own spacecrafts, or a popular competition promoting such a goal.

This geek could not have predicted the level of camaraderie and collaboration taking place between not only federal agencies such as NASA and commercial technology companies, but also the U.S. and Russia. Bravo! (And more on that soon….)

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