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System-Level Simulation

Ames system analysis tools, simulation laboratories, human factors research tools, and distributed/collaborative workspace expertise combine to form a unique system-level modeling and simulation capability.

System-level simulation will give the Exploration Program a proven, cost-effective research capability. It will contribute significantly to the safety and success of the Program through “virtual” hands-on experience. Many of the major elements already exist within the Ames suite of simulation technologies. An integrated system-level simulation gives the Program an essential, vital tool with which to achieve mission success. With the planned level of automation and robotic technology in the Exploration Program, it is important to emphasize that humans are always a part of the “system,” even if only in an oversight capacity. The system-level simulation concept fulfills the necessity of developing systems while involving the intended users.

System level simulation

Right: System-level simulation has numerous applications in NASA’s Exploration Vision.

Research Overview
The basic capabilities of a system-level simulation exist, as illustrated by the above examples. Simulations that involve the Exploration Vision will entail reliance on other contributing arenas such as information technology, analysis tools, modeling, and the design community. Development tasks will require further strengthening of the communications pathways between these arenas, integrating new tools and technologies as they become available, and working with others to boost the collaborative power of system simulation.


Right: Vertical Motion Simulator and customizable cabin.

A reasonable functional architecture of a system-level simulation would have a robust, extensible network infrastructure supporting a variable set of system simulations or the systems themselves. Part-task simulations could be combined with other system components as required to achieve the level of fidelity needed in a particular instance. The HLA-based architecture developed for the VAST Project allows just this kind of capability, permitting data and control to flow between the different systems being simulated.

The Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS) is a high-fidelity simulator ideal for the design and development of vehicles that involve human interaction, operation, or oversight. A large amplitude motion system drives a simulated “cabin” to provide the acceleration environment important to researching human/machine performance issues.

For research involving mission planning, operations, and training issues, Future Flight Central provides a unique combination of capabilities. A 360-degree surround visualization system, a configurable operations workspace immersed within, and a network of computer workstations and communications enables an entire team to work in tandem and conduct interrelated research in real-time.

The Ames systems, combined with other simulators, test devices, and command/control centers across the nation will provide this system-level simulation capability to the Exploration Program.

Components and systems must be tested in an environment emulating their intended use to enable refinement of systems requirements, sound design decisions, and efficient resource utilization while ensuring that designs adequately address operators’ needs. This approach is possible when using Ames ’ distributed/collaborative, system-level architecture. Bringing simulation into play far earlier in the processes of design, development, and testing will aid NASA in completing its mission goals in an affordable, expedient manner while sacrificing neither safety nor innovation.

Future Flight Central

Left: Future Flight Central.

The Ames Simulation Laboratories have employed this approach in two recent Projects with exciting and beneficial results. The Rapid Integration and Test Environment (RITE) Project developed the methodology to collapse the design cycle of a system (in this study, a crew vehicle) into a very short time frame and involve all process contributors--from designers to pilots--in design decisions. A number of analytical tools (CFD codes, control system optimization), information technology tools (HEC, networking, IPG), a virtual laboratory (remote, collaborative capability), and the Simulation Laboratory were combined in unique ways to form the RITE system. The results were that: 1) vehicle design modifications, complete with CFD modeling, systems analysis, simulator implementation, and astronaut evaluation, could be accomplished in 2-3 days; and 2) the system designers got firsthand exposure to the end users’ (astronaut) experience, while the end user had an early opportunity to contribute to the design.

A second and current experience with the system-level approach involves the Virtual Airspace Simulation Technologies (VAST) Project. This is a distributed simulation of the National Airspace System. It is an interactive, human-in-the-loop, system-level simulation that provides a virtual workbench for the development, testing, and evaluation of advanced concepts for air traffic management. It is a clear demonstration of a networked system simulation that provides a scaleable, robust environment supporting research and development.

These examples show the value of system-level simulation in support of research. This approach facilitates the cooperative efforts of cross-discipline teams working on complex and interdependent systems.