Category Archives: Systems Engineering & Project Management

New Horizons – This was almost a disaster, but was saved by knowledgeable scientists.

The people in the Mission Operations Center — “the MOC” — had been tracking NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft for 9½ years as it journeyed the breadth of the solar system. It was just 10 days away from the dwarf planet Pluto when, at 1:55 p.m. on July 4, it vanished.

The disappearance of the spacecraft challenged the New Horizons team to perform at its highest level and under the greatest of deadline pressures. They did work efficiently and saved the mission. We all wish the New Horizons team the best as they approach the busiest time of the fly-by encounter. I have known and respected many of the engineers and scientist for more than 20 years and am happy to praise their skills.

The nature of the New Horizons mission did not permit any wiggle room, any delays, any do-overs, because it was a flyby. The spacecraft had one shot at Pluto, tightly scheduled: When it vanished, New Horizons was going about 32,000 miles per hour and on track to make its closest pass to Pluto, about 7,800 miles, at precisely 7:49 a.m. July 14.

But as the New Horizons team gathered in the control room on July 4, no one knew whether their spacecraft was still alive.


Because New Horizons is so far away, it takes 4 1/2 hours for a one-way message between the spacecraft and the MOC. That means whatever happened to New Horizons on July 4 had actually happened 4 1/2 hours before the people in Mission Operations knew about it.


The team figured out what had gone wrong. The spacecraft’s main computer had been compressing new scientific data for downloading much later. At the same time, it was supposed to execute some previously uploaded commands. It got overloaded; the spacecraft has an “autonomy” system that can decide what to do if something’s not quite right. That system decided to switch from the main to the backup computer and go into safe mode.


Additional information about the start of the New Horizons mission and the key roles played by ATI instructors who worked (and are still working) on the New Horizons mission see

The New Horizons Mission to Pluto–Ten Experts Who Worked Behind-the-Scenes On the New Horizons Mission and Who Teach for ATIcourses.

New Horizons: Recollections of Ground System Engineer, Steve Gemeny

New Horizons: Recollections of Ground System Engineer, Steve Gemeny

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8, and has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument.

When we think about the ground system on a space mission we tend to consider all the systems associated with commanding, receiving and archiving telemetry, and all the communications systems and equipment that makes that all work.  We plan contingencies, and redundancies, we back up everything in multiple formats, and on long duration missions like New Horizons someone eventually has to address “how are we going to keep all that stuff on the ground running for 10 – 20 years”-  and produces a Longevity Plan.

But once everything is all setup, and operational, and all the staff are at their stations on launch day – having already given the first “Go For Launch” pole responses with 5 hours till launch – You have to wonder, did anyone ever consider what to do if the entire JHU/APL campus goes dark!

No one had.  And with a newly installed cutover for the main (PEPCO) power feed providing an automatic transfer to a backup (BGE) feed  no one expected to ever need the capability, let alone that it would failed to transfer.  It did- at about 5:30 am on launch day while I was on console at KSC.  The rapid application of backup generators to sustain the Mission Operations Center at APL only solved half of the issues…  Network switches and routers were scattered across campus, most only running on UPS Power until that failed too… there was no cooling air to keep everything operating within normal temperatures on January 18, 2006…  Things were going from bad to worse and the Mission System Engineer was heard to say “  I’ve seen how quickly a Launch day can get deep into the contingency  plan, I’m not starting a launch when we are already this deep into solving unplanned contingencies”. This resulted in the launch being scrubbed and resumed on January 19th after power and environmental control systems were restored campus wide at APL.

Fortunately, I spent the time that afternoon to write the whole thing up in case I was asked to give a report, I’ve got pictures of generators outside Building 13, with external air handlers and chillers hosed up to blowers and leaks flooding the hallways…  It was a ZOO!.  I was safe at KSC and we restarted the count for a successful launch on the 19th.

Steve Gemeny teaches Ground Systems Design & Operations course for ATICourses.

Other scientists & engineers that worked on the New Horizons and also teach for ATI are:

1. Dr. Alan Stern

2. Eric Hoffman

3. Chris DeBoy

4. Dr. Mark E. Pittelkau

5. Douglas Mehoke

6. John Penn

7. Timothy Cole

8. Robert Moore

9. Jay Jenkins


Read more


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Attend Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) Fundamentals (1-day) and the follow-on MBSE Applications courses (2-days)

My name is Zane Scott and I teach the Model-Based Systems Engineering courses for Applied Technology Institute (ATICourses).  I want to invite you the ATI’s Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) Fundamentals (1-day) and the follow-on MBSE Applications courses (2-days). The Model-Based Systems Engineering Fundamentals course includes discussion of real-life benefits from this approach versus the traditional document-centric systems design methodology. The two-day follow-on class provides in-depth practical advice and case studies based on specific satellite and defense systems case studies.

Model-based Systems Engineering Fundamentals Aug 11, 2015 Columbia, MD
Model-based Systems Engineering (2 day) Aug 12-13, 2015 Columbia, MD


The benefits of MBSE from a program manager/sponsor perspective are emphasized in day 1, which is available as a stand-along course for Program Managers and other non-technical sponsors. The two-day follow-on class provides in-depth knowledge for the working systems engineer. These courses are practical and useful in managing complex systems design projects utilizing MBSE which promises to impact projects positively by improving communication among the team, promoting reuse (and associated cost/risk reduction), and maintaining traceability from the requirements through validation and verification.

But are these promises fulfilled and results documented? Case studies are used to illustrate the practical benefits of MBSE.  MBSE was recently used on a student project at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. The student team was so impressed by the effectiveness of this approach that they recorded a 2014 case study webinar. This success story is especially beneficial for Systems Engineering Managers seeking to clearly understand the Return on Investment from MBSE.

Systems Engineering practitioners will appreciate the in-depth practical system design process outlined in day 2 and 3 of this course with reference to the CubeSat program case study. The Embry-Riddle EagleSat program took off in 2012 as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. The student-run, professor-guided organization has a goal of flying Embry-Riddle’s first satellite, a fully functioning 10-centimeter cube focused on analyzing the susceptibility of computer memory to solar radiation, while also mapping the body’s orbital decay over time.


The systems engineering effort, undertaken through the use of MBSE, has played a critical role in requirements management and maintaining design traceability throughout the development process and across all six subsystems. The choice to use MBSE comes from the approach’s inherent ability to document complex element relationships while easily and fully communicating these to other team members through generated reports and descriptive diagrams.

Please consider attending either the 1-day Fundamentals class if you need an overview, or the full 3-day class to learn how to effectively apply MBSE to real-world, complex systems engineering projects.

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New INCOSE CSEP Handbook v4.0 to be Released! Pass the CSEP test Now!

New INCOSE Handbook – New CSEP Opportunities

The newest INCOSE SE Handbook (version 4.0) is expected this month (June 2015). Now is a great time to plan for the CSEP/ASEP exam best suited to you, because the transition gives you a choice!.

Insider Hint – Since the CSEP application process can be long and time intensive, sign up first to become an ASPE. Once you pass the exam, you then can take your time to complete the more demanding CSEP application process.

The Handbook was delayed to coincide with the recent release of ISO-15288. Now INCOSE will offer a transition period for you. From now through December 2015, the current exam will continue to be primary, based on Handbook v3.2.2. The new exam will become primary in January 2016 – but the new exam can also be available by special request as early as July.

ATI matches the transition with our Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) Preparation course. You can still take our 2-day course based on Handbook v3.2.2 on July 7-8, 2015 in Chantilly, VA. Or you can expand your knowledge with our new 3-day version based on Handbook 4.0 on September 24-26 (and forward). The new course will cover the significant expansion in the new Handbook (another 50 pages!) and will also include more exercises and activities to help you “seal in” the knowledge for the exam.

You can choose! Take the shorter course and get your ASEP/CSEP now, before the change – or take the longer course to get the full set of new knowledge and more learning activities. Either way, you advance your career by gaining the INCOSE certification!


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Aegis Combat System Engineering and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Videos

This YouTube channel has several good video produced by Raytheon explaining their radar and Ballistic Missile Defense systems.

ATIcourses has two courses that fully explain the Aegis Combat System and Aegis Ballistic Defense systems. These courses are offered as open enrollment public courses and customized onsite courses.

  • Aegis Combat System Engineering
  • Naval engagements can be divided into three major functions: Detect, Control, Engage. The Aegis Combat System (ACS) is the first to tightly integrate, interlace, and overlap all three functions into one. The central integrating element of the ACS is the Aegis Weapon System (AWS) which is a multifunction radar and fire control system designed for the Navy’s anti-air warfare (AAW) mission of fleet defense. The system conducts AAW engagements, starting with surveillance and tracking by the SPY-1 radar; application of engagement doctrine by the Command and Control system; intercept calculation, weapon selection, launch, and guidance of the Standard Missile by the Weapon Control system; and terminal homing by the Fire Control System using the MK-99 illuminator. Attendees will study the System Engineering processes: concept definition; design: and implementation; and understand application in design and upgrade configurations. Focus will be on engineering of the Weapon System including Standard Missile and Aegis Combat System integration. Program and Project Managers, Contract Administrators, Quality Managers, and Engineers (all disciplines) can accelerate their ability to understand ACS design competences.


  • Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense
  • What You Will Learn: The main focus will be on engineering of the Weapon System, including Standard Missile and Aegis Combat System integration. Attendees will develop an understanding of the Aegis BMD mission, as well as the system concept definition, design, and implementation based on a mature AWS development philosophy. Attendees will develop an understanding of how Aegis Combat System was upgraded to include the additional BMD mission while maintaining all existing Aegis operational warfare capabilities. Students will examine how the System Engineering process ensures that systems are developed to meet mission performance objectives which are affordable, operationally effective, and timely.


What Can Systems Engineers Learn From the Healthcare Roll-out Disaster?

Systems engineering, detailed planning and testing matter. ATIcourses offers a full range of Project Management and Systems Engineering courses. Read this article on the lessons learned (again) from the disaster of the healthcare web roll-out.  A big public failure focuses the mind.
Tenet #1 – Reduce complexity. Roll out products in phases, starting with a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).
Tenet #2 – Allow room for discovery and testing. With any software development project, especially one that works with existing components or legacy systems, it’s guaranteed that nobody will know all the potential issues up front.
Tenet #3 – Don’t let sales drive the product road-map.

Tenet #4 – Have a product manager. It’s mind boggling that with hundreds of people and several different companies working on the project, there was no central person, like a Product Manager, responsible for how the pieces fit together.

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Tribute to Robert Nelson (1944 – 2013)

Dr. Robert (Bob) A. Nelson was an engineer’s engineer. He was a well-respected first as a physics teacher, and then after earning his PhD, as a satellite communications expert, an author, a consultant and an instructor for the Applied Technology Institute course
Satellite Communication Systems Engineering. Bob was president of Satellite Engineering Research Corporation, a consulting firm in Bethesda, Maryland. He also served for a number of years as the Technical Editor for Via Sat magazine. He was a coauthor of the textbook Satellite Communications Systems Engineering (second edition).

Dr. Nelson was born in Mount Vernon, New York August 14, 1944. Bob died on Sunday April 28, 2013 after a many month battle with cancer.  In spite of the cancer he remained professionally active until the end teaching, and even chairing a technical session during the Satellite 2013 conference in April 2013. He will be missed.

Dr. Nelson performed studies on satellite communications, orbit and constellation analysis, and spacecraft design for Space Systems/Loral, GLOBALSTAR, ICO, Sirius Satellite Radio, Arinc, NASA, Naval Research Laboratory, and many other companies and government agencies.

Dr Nelson earned a degree in Engineering Physics from Lehigh University and decided that he was called to the teaching profession.  He went on to complete a Master of Education from Lehigh and became a Physics and Math teacher for 15 years in Armonk, New York. His interest in Physics continued to grow and Bob his PhD in Physics from the University of Maryland He was a licensed Professional Engineer. He taught in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland and the long-running short course Satellite Communication Systems Engineering for ATIcourses.

Dr. Nelson’s clients included Space Systems/Loral, GLOBALSTAR, ICO, Arinc, Naval Research Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace, NASA and many other companies and government agencies. He was an active member of the Space and Satellite community and was recently moderator at the Satellite 2013 session “Quest to Defy Physics: Ka-band and Rain Attenuation”.  He is coauthor of the textbook Satellite Communication Systems Engineering, 2nd ed. (Prentice Hall, 1993). Dr. Nelson was the Technical Editor of Via Satellite magazine. He was a member of IEEE, AIAA, APS, AAPT, AAS, IAU, and ION.

Essays on Space and Satellite Communications — by Robert A. Nelson


Dr Nelson was a respected and trusted colleague who had a passion and dedication for everything that he did.


ATI’s Instructor’s Featured in the Top Five Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study

ATI’s instructor Paul Gelhausen’s  company was featured in a recent survey of up-and-coming companies in Unmanned Aircraft Systems.  Paul Gelhausen teaches Unmanned Air Vehicle Design. He is Founder, Managing Member and Chief Technical Officer of an Avid, an aerospace and software company. His company was featured in the recent report  “Emerging Market New Independent Study: Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft Systems And Whom To Watch”.

AVID, LLC.  AVID, an aerospace engineering and software development firm provides multidisciplinary aircraft design and analyses. AVID’s focus is the development of novel aerodynamic concepts and aircraft designs, as well as the creation of standards-based, platform-independent, aircraft design and optimization software.

These UAS courses are scheduled. The first two are taught by Paul Gelhausen. The second two are taught by Dr. (Col. Ret.) Jerry LeMieux, who is President Of Unmanned Vehicle University. He has over 40 years and 10,000 hours of aviation experience.

Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Sep 24-26, 2013 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Jan 28-30, 2014 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals Jul 23-25, 2013 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Aircraft System Fundamentals Feb 25-27, 2014 Columbia, MD



Training budgets: Smaller is not an option


The debate on the budgets for the government organizations is pretty toxic in the US. Both US Navy and US Army alongside other organizations have declared budget shortfalls which effect many areas including training. Without commitment to training and learning new skills there can be no continuous improvement, which is one of the prime directives of any government or company.

The Applied Technology Institute (ATI) specializes in short course technical training in space, communications, defense, sonar, radar, systems engineering and signal processing. Since 1984 ATI has provided leading-edge public courses and on-site technical training to defense and NASA facilities, as well as DOD and aerospace contractors. The courses provide a clear understanding of the fundamental principles and a working knowledge of current technology and applications.


When your company does not want to pay for the training you really want, as an alternative, you can:

  • Spent your own personal money and funds; if you believe in it and then you will do it
  • Find a user group who are practicing the skills you desire
  • Don’t accept the classic answer from the boss, “How does X help the business?”. If the training is relevant to you achieving a goal of being a much better employee then of course it is relevant.
  • Find another organization to work for

A training manager with a good team can:

  • Fight for your team and their training; fight for your team’s budget and don’t let the senior management take it away
  • Give up your personal training for the entire year and suggest that they allocate the extra budget to training for your team members
  • Perhaps, it is time to evaluate the relationship with the preferred supplier of training. Has your firm been getting decent value from the PSL (preferred supplier list)?
  • Find alternatives to training like brown bag lunches and/or collaborate with other businesses

Everybody needs training and self-improvement.

Please share your opinion with us by commenting below.

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Under President Obama, the PUBLIC Sector is Doing Fine

Typical Agile Project Management Process

Typical Agile Project Management Process

Video Clip: Click to Watch

Do You Know How to Satisfy the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Requirements (Circular A-11) while Applying an Agile Execution Approach?

If you answered NO,

Then you should take our

Agile Projects in the Government Environment Course

In this powerful two-day course, you’ll grasp the concepts, principles, and structure of Agile development and how these are being applied in the unique federal environment.

A common misconception is that Agility means lack of order or discipline, but that’s incorrect. It requires strong discipline. You must have a solid foundation of practices and procedures in order to successfully adapt Agile in the Government environment, and you must also learn to follow those practices correctly while tying them to pre-defined, rigid quality goals. This workshop gives you the foundation of knowledge and experience you need in order to be successful on your next federal project.

Define principles and highlight advantages and disadvantages of Agile development and how to map them to federal guidelines for IT procurement, development and delivery. Get firsthand experience organizing and participating in an Agile team. Put the concepts you learn to practice instantly in the classroom project. Understand and learn how to take advantage of the opportunities for Agile, while applying them within current government project process requirements.

Specifically, you will

• Consistently deliver better products that will enable your customer’s success

• Reduce the risk of project failure, missed deadlines, scope overrun or exceeded budgets

• Establish, develop, empower, nurture and protect high-performing teams

• Identify and eliminate waste from processes

• Map government project language to Agile language simply and effectively

• Foster collaboration, even with teams that are distributed geographically and organizationally

• Clearly understand how EVM and Agile can be integrated

• Understand the structure of Agile processes that breed success in the federal environment

• Embrace ever-changing requirements

Who Should Attend

Because this is an immersion course and the intent is to engage in the practices every Agile team will employ, this course is recommended for all team members responsible for delivering outstanding software. That includes, but is not limited to, the following roles:

• Business Analyst

• Technical Analyst

• Project Manager

• Software Engineer/Programmer

• Development Manager

• Product Manager

• Product Analyst

• Tester

• QA Engineer

• Documentation Specialist

The Agile Boot Camp is a perfect place for cross functional “teams” to become familiar with Agile methods and learn the basics together. It’s also a wonderful springboard for team building & learning. Bring your project detail to work on in class.

About the Applied Technology Institute (ATI)

Since 1984, the Applied Technology Institute (ATI) has provided leading-edge public courses and onsite technical training to DoD and NASA personnel, as well as contractors. Whether you are a busy engineer, a technical expert or a project manager, you can enhance your understanding of complex systems in a short time. You will become aware of the basic vocabulary essential to interact meaningfully with your colleagues. If you or your team is in need of more technical training, then boost your career with the knowledge needed to provide better, faster, and cheaper solutions for sophisticated DoD and NASA systems.

What You Will Learn

• Consistently deliver better products that will enable your customer’s success

• Reduce the risk of project failure, missed deadlines, scope overrun or exceeded budgets

• Establish, develop, empower, nurture and protect high-performing teams

• Identify and eliminate waste from processes

• Map government project language to Agile language simply and effectively

• Foster collaboration, even with teams that are distributed geographically and organizationally

• Clearly understand how EVM and Agile can be integrated

• Understand the structure of Agile processes that breed success in the federal environment

• Embrace ever-changing requirements for your customer’s competitive advantage

Why not take a short course? ATI short courses are less than a week long and are designed to help you keep your professional knowledge up-to-date. Our courses provide a practical overview of space and defense technologies which provide a strong foundation for an understanding the issues that must be confronted in the use, regulation and development of complex systems.

Dates and Locations

For the dates and locations of these short courses, please see below:

Jul 19-20, 2012 Baltimore, MD

Aug 9-10, 2012 Washington, DC

Sep 13-14, 2012 Herndon, VA

Oct 18-19, 2012 Columbia, MD


The ATI Courses Team

P.S Call today for registration at 410-956-8805 or 888-501-2100 or access our website at For general questions please email us at

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