Where tradition and technology intersect, not even the sky’s the limit. It’s an idea that’s fueled decades of Atlas rockets. They launched the 1962 mission that made John Glenn the first American to orbit the earth, the 2012 Mars Rover Curiosity, and a US Navy satellite just a few months ago.
The most recent iteration of this historic series of rockets, the Atlas V, is built and flown by United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is America’s ride to space, and has launched more than 90 satellites to orbit—with 100 percent mission success—that provide critical capabilities for our troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation, and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.
But the vessel on the launch pad boasts much more than space-age materials—space-age software allows each rocket to be made with the utmost efficiency and reliability. Siemens product lifecycle management (PLM) software technology dominates the field, and it powers ULA’s US-based operations from design to launch, from Denver to Cape Canaveral.
Digitalization of product development enables ULA’s pioneering American manufacturing on a celestial scale. Siemens’ Teamcenter software keeps intellectual property, supply chain, and product data organized and ready to deploy as new needs arise. Software allows ULA engineers to perform countless simulations during the design phase to ensure that no physical resources are wasted or misused during manufacturing. It also saves huge chunks of time, as each new testing issue can be traced to the specific parts of a project that are affected.
Such advances are crucial to productivity at ULA and manufacturers across the US as a rising dollar makes foreign goods more competitive and increased consumer demand bumps up against factory capacities. Without digitalization’s effect of creating more using current physical resources, new opportunities would fly by.
Companies chasing the stars know these pressures all too well. As the space exploration industry weighs the potential for new breakthroughs, efficiency reigns at mission control—and software runs the show. A reminder of the extreme conditions space missions face helps explain why. When the Mars Rover Curiosity needed to enter the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph before a gentle landing, only hundreds of simulations and coordinated tests could ensure success in the moment.
ULA is working with Siemens to further integrate its PLM data across all users and systems to give its engineers a boost, and they are also developing multi-CAD (computer-aided design) technology that will make model-based design possible for a new Vulcan rocket.
Space exploration may not have the attention or resources it once did, but astronomical ambition may be merely shifting rather than disappearing. A new mix of private companies, re-imagined government programs, and innovative spacecraft guides this year’s impressive run of missions. Technology makes each new trajectory possible. The countdown to the next discovery in the lab, and in the stars, is well underway.
Learn more about how digitalization is changing the rules of the game here.
This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.