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Short Course

Systems Engineering and Large Telescope Observatories (SC1139)

Course Level: Introductory
Format Member Non-Member
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Modern astronomical observatories are becoming larger and more complex with many components working together to achieve the common goal of gathering useful information for astro-scientists. Successful engineering of these observatories is enabled by following a systems engineering viewpoint of looking at the whole. This viewpoint requires a multidisciplinary breadth and the ability to find a balance among 1) the system user's needs and desires, 2) the manager's funding and schedule constraints, and 3) the capabilities and ambitions of the engineering specialists who develop and build the system. The system engineer is sometimes described as the person on the program who should know the partial derivative of every parameter of the system with respect to every other parameter. This course introduces the concepts and models that are used to evolve a system from an abstract vision to the final validated and verified operational system. Examples are given that provide insight into the variety of engineering disciplines and typical subsystems found in observatories for optical astronomy observatories (X-ray through IR).


This course will enable you to:
  • explain the stages within a System Engineering Life Cycle Model
  • create a context diagram for the system, identifying both internal and external interfaces
  • construct an iterative process for flowing from Science Mission goals to system level functional and physical requirements down to component level requirements within the constraints of the development process
  • demonstrate how to evaluate trades and analyses of alternatives
  • conduct maturity, risk assessment and tracking analyses to identify and manage technology development and risk mitigation activities
  • explain the role of technical budgets for managing requirements and the mathematics behind them
  • determine the basics of probabilistic risk assessment
  • provide examples of Technical Performance Metrics monitoring as a tool in requirements management
  • describe the use of integrated modeling as a tool for design development and system verification


Scientists, engineers, or managers who wish to learn more about system engineering as applied to mission definition and engineering development of large telescope astronomical observatories. The focus will be on space based observatories, but with relevant overlap with ground based systems. Undergraduate training in science or engineering is assumed.

About the

Paul Lightsey has more than 50 years’ experience in Physics, Mathematics, and Engineering in the area of optical systems analysis and design. He is currently the Chief Engineer for the Webb Space Telescope program at Ball, and a member of the NASA Mission Systems Engineering Optical Leads for Webb. He has contributed to all phases of development from new business through design, fabrication, alignment, test, calibration, and on-orbit operations while at Ball. Dr. Lightsey has extensive experience working on Hubble Space Telescope (HST) instruments and was the System Engineer for the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS). He developed a system optical performance model for design analysis of COSTAR, the corrective optics for the Hubble Space Telescope. This model includes modeling of structural dynamics and thermal effects on the imaging performance and was also used for design analysis of NICMOS, STIS, and Webb. Dr. Lightsey has experience in modeling optical propagation through the atmosphere, atmospheric remote sensing instrumentation, pointing and tracking systems, and spacecraft orbit and attitude analyses. Before coming to Ball, Dr. Lightsey was a professor of physics and mathematics for 14 years with an eclectic background covering low-temperature solid state physics, sports mechanics, and environmental sciences. He has taught in the Johns Hopkins University Masters of Science in Systems Engineering program; SPIE system engineering short courses; and internal courses at Ball. Dr. Lightsey received his BS in Physics with High Distinction from Colorado State University in 1966, and his Ph.D. in Physics from Cornell University in 1972. In 2003 he received the William H. Follett, Jr. Award for Excellence in System Engineering, and in 2007 he received the Distinguished Public Service Medal from NASA. He currently serves on NASA’s Cosmic Origins Program Analysis Executive Committee. He is a Senior Member of OSA and is a SPIE Fellow.

Jonathan Arenberg is currently the Chief Engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems and has been with the company since 1989. He started his career at Hughes Aircraft Company. His work experience includes optical, space and laser systems. Dr. Arenberg has worked on such astronomical programs as the Chandra X-ray Observatory, James Webb Space Telescope and helped develop the New Worlds Observer concept for the imaging of extra-solar planets. He has worked on major high-energy and tactical laser systems, laser component engineering and metrology issues. He is a member of the ISO sub-committee charged with writing standards for laser and electro-optic systems and components, SPIE, American Astronomical Society and AIAA. Dr. Arenberg holds a BS in physics (1983) and an MS (1985) and PhD (1987) in engineering, all from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of over 100 conference presentations and publications, and holds 1 European and 11 U.S. Patents in a wide variety of areas of technology. Dr. Arenberg is a member of the SPIE Distinguished Speakers program.


COURSE PRICE INCLUDES the text Systems Engineering for Astronomical Telescopes (SPIE Press 2018) by Paul A. Lightsey and Jonathan Arenberg.
Format Member Non-Member
Contact SPIE
Contact SPIE
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