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Short Course

Systems Engineering and Large Telescope Observatories (SC1139)

Course Level: Introductory
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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 A. Lightsey has 40+ years' experience in Physics, Mathematics, and Engineering, much in the area of optical systems analysis and design. He has worked on JWST since 1997 and is currently the Chief Engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope program at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., and is in NASA/GSFC Mission Systems Engineering Optical Leads team. 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 worked on several of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) instruments built by Ball and before that, the Relay Mirror Experiment (RME) and the Retroreflector Assisted Imaging Laser Experiment (RAILE). He is a Lecturer in the Whiting School of Engineering for Professional Programs at Johns Hopkins University, teaching in the Master of Science in Systems Engineering program. He received his BS with High Distinction in Physics from Colorado State University in 1966, and his Ph.D. in Physics from Cornell University in 1972. He has received the William H. Follett, Jr. Award for Excellence in System Engineering at Ball, and the Distinguished Public Service Medal from NASA for his work on HST and JWST.

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.


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