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We typically think of computer engineers as designers of hardware and software – the minds behind faster, smarter networks and the latest information architecture. Engineering training often covers the design of processors and algorithms for efficient data transmission and secure storage, along with the design of human-machine interface systems used in automation.

And although traditional computer engineering has an important role to play in the design and implementation of aircraft control systems, it’s not often associated with the actual design of spacecraft. An exciting era of computational science and engineering has expanded the conventional dimensions of the discipline to include the creation of new, powerful tools for real-world discovery and understanding. One of the latest “tools” to emerge with the help of computer engineering is NASA’s brand new Common Bus spacecraft, optimized with the help of an innovative software program.

HyperSizer Software Boosts Efficiency

While a computer-aided drafter would have played an important role in conceptualizing the Common Bus spacecraft’s general design, engineers were not able to accurately determine the ability of its materials to withstand the unique space environment. They needed a new method of optimizing the craft’s material and construction type for its anticipated mission to the moon in September of 2013.  They turned to a structure-optimization software from Collier Research Corp. called HyperSizer. The software calculates failure modes and logs data to balance design goals with material properties and environmental stresses.

How Does HyperSizer Work?

HyperSizer refined the existing Common Bus model by sourcing literature and empirical tests from a material property database. For each element of the spacecraft, HyperSizer checked around 20 failure modes and interactions, including face dimpling and local buckling. In total, the software verified an impressive 1 billion structural margins and generated detailed illustrations for engineers to interpret. Before this innovation of computer engineering, designers had to verify each component manually or hire analysts to write special code for the process. It was a much more time consuming, a hit-and-miss approach that often resulted in overweight spacecraft.

The Evolution of Mechanical Design

Students currently pursuing CAD training may soon find themselves using sophisticated computer software like HyperSizer to optimize their designs. Rather than create a model and then take steps to verify its material and structural suitability to specific environments, engineers will analyze and perfect as they go – streamlining construction, saving costs, and minimizing error. And in turn, these time-savers will help humans get on with the explorations that are so critical to our understanding of the universe and ourselves.

What do you think is the most exciting evolution in computer engineering?