Architecture development often is conducted prior to system concept design when there is a need to determine the best-value mix of systems that works collectively in specific scenarios and time frames to accomplish a set of mission area objectives. Conducted prior to Pre-Phase A of the project lifecycle, the scope of architecture studies is broader and shallower than that of concept design studies conducted in Pre-Phase A. Results are used to advise senior planners on recommended capabilities and investment profiles for mission areas 15-25 years in the future.

Conducting architecture studies, however, can present certain challenges. For example, over 60 architecture “frameworks,” with varying scope, are reported to exist. Additionally, some of these frameworks contain unique taxonomies and data structures. Such a wide range of descriptions can lead to differing perspectives among architecture development teams (ADTs) and their customers and stakeholders with respect to what an architecture is and how it gets developed. This is particularly true when teams span multiple organizations. These differing perspectives can slow ADT progress and cause variations in product content and fidelity.

With this in mind, this work describes an architecture development approach that instead is based on widely understood systems engineering fundamentals. Illustrating a development process for a notional civil space (NCS) architecture and requiring no special training in unique taxonomies and data structures, it uses a multi-tier framework to describe the enterprise-level NCS architecture and illustrates how the results of lower-tier mission area architectures (MAAs) are developed and integrated into the enterprise-level architecture. Included are discussions of the core elements of the NCS architecture (including functions, physical assets, concepts of operation, and constraints), an example NCS architecture framework that traces functions to measures of performance and physical assets, a physical view of an MAA within the NCS architecture, measures of effectiveness, and scenarios and environments.

Also presented are practices for conducting effective MAA studies. These include key considerations in developing a Terms of Reference document (defines the problem to be solved and identifies the scope, domains, constraints, stakeholders, etc.) and in selecting the time frame for the MAA. They also include an approach to expediting study execution through the use of iterative design cycles, a structured approach based on a standard systems engineering technique for conducting system requirements development, design, and analysis in successive cycles. A template is provided for a trade study case matrix that leverages the functional decomposition, and example study products are tabulated.

This work provides techniques to help ADTs and their customers and stakeholders quickly gain a collective understanding of what an architecture is and how it gets developed when planning for the far-term future. As the methods used in this work are based on widely understood systems engineering techniques and terminology, they should be readily usable by a wide range of teams within government and industry, and should have application beyond space architecture development.

This work was done by David Di Pietro of Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA is seeking partners to further develop this technology through joint cooperative research and development. For more information about this technology and to explore opportunities, please contact Scott Leonardi at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. GSC-17327-1


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2017 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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