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About Our Studies

The NASA Ames Mission Design Center (MDC) is a multi-disciplinary, concurrent engineering Technical Area within the Spaceflight Division that specializes in conceptual mission design. While experienced in multiple design and mission implementation levels, the MDC focuses on cost-effective, small spacecraft missions. Our spaceflight mission concept lab provides tailored support for Customers to understand if their idea for a spaceflight mission is feasible within set technical and programmatic constraints. We also provide concurrent engineering services, infrastructure, training, and trained personnel, for spaceflight mission concept development. 

Examples of Past Studies about About Our Studies

Schedule a Study Consultation

To get started with a Mission Design Center study, please email Alan Cassell, MDC Lead, to discuss how the MDC can assist you.
The information provided during the consultation will:

  • Help us determine how the Mission Design Center can best serve your needs
  • Identify the type and scope of support you require
  • Define the time frame in which you need to complete the requested study

Mission Design Center Study Process

General mission design center study process overview highlighting the CML framework from stages 1-4
Acronyms: STM: System Traceability Matrix, SMEs: Subject Matter Experts, GR&As: Ground Rules & Assumptions

Concept Maturity Level Framework:

Concept Maturity Levels (CMLs) provide a standardized tool to advance mission concept designs and to assess the current state of a concept, effectively communicating the product’s progress and identifying remaining work to proceed to the next level. This framework has been developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to assess the technical progress of a mission concept. 

MDC products can be tailored to support concept feasibility and maturation from CML 1 to CML 4, with primary focus on CMLs 2-4 using a combination of Concurrent Engineering design sessions, focused workflows, and CML checklists. These frameworks are defined as follows:

CML 1: Consultation

example of CML Level 1 by the Mission Design Center
An example of work at the concept maturity level 1; Mission Architecture Definition Trades
Credits: NASA

The question of the study is formed and mission concept is established

  • Mission design team engagement
  • Describe MDC Maturation Framework
  • Provide early mission concept feedback
  • Determine stakeholder engagement approaches

CML 2: Feasibility Assessment Studies

CML 2 framework: Trajectory Analysis, Visualization, and Scenario Planning. Heliocentric transfers, Deployment of lander network on hyperbolic approach, Orbit Insertion & Circularization, and Surface Network to Orbiter Relay Planning
An example of work at the concept maturity level 2; Trajectory Analysis, Visualization, and Scenario Planning.
Credits: NASA

Mission concept is expanded and assessed based on feasibility.

Study goals and formats:

  • Mini Consultation (small, focused study)
  • Study types include: science missions, technology demonstrations, architecture studies, and strategic guidance
  • Detailed Study with larger subject matter expert (SME) pool
  • Cross collaboration with external partners and/or study teams

CML 3: Trade Space Analysis

cml 3 framework: trade studies.
An example of work at the concept maturity level 3; Trade Studies and Concept Designs
Credits: NASA

Exploration around objectives and mission design.

Study goals and formats:

  • Focus on Trade Space Exploration
  • Assess key metrics
  • Specify evaluation criteria
  • Mini consultations and detailed studies
  • Includes concurrent engineering and interface analysis

CML 4: Point Design

cml 4 framework- mechanical concepts and graphic design
An example of work at the concept maturity level 3; Mechanical Concepts and Graphic Designs, including, but not limited to, concept rendering and operational visualization
Credits: NASA

A baseline design and cost that returns the desired output has been selected within the trade space.

Study goals and formats:

  • Focused on producing baseline point design
  • Format can be adjusted to work mini consultations and detailed studies
  • Output includes mechanical concepts and graphic design; concept rendering and operational visualization

Point of Contact:

Alan Cassell
MDC Lead
NASA Ames Research Center