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Curiosity Series Digital Twinning at the CDF on ESTEC: Don’t limit your ambitions

27 juni 2022
Curiosity Series Digital Twinning at the CDF on ESTEC: Don’t limit your ambitions

The June 22 Session of the Curiosity Series research edition was centered around the topic of Digital Twin Earth. This session was conducted as a concurrent design session. Using that methodology, the brainstorming was capable of identifying areas which could potentially, after a next session of the seminar, serve to identify common research questions about this topic, for ESA ESTEC. We created a recap of the discussion and what we are looking forward to with the participants. 

NL Space Campus organises together with ESA/ESTEC and LDE Universities a series of discussions specifically for researchers in the space sector. Open for researchers in and outside the Netherlands. Every session we focus on a different challenge. Last editions were about quantum sensory payload and radiation. 

The June 22 Session of the Curiosity Series was centred around the topic of Digital Twin Earth. Truly a broad, complex topic, which today is a central research objective for climate research and politicians, who have to take impactful decisions in this area. It is anticipated to be key in gaining improved understanding of the climate system of earth and the prediction of the climate change. This session was conducted as a concurrent design session with the objective to identify, within the broad community, research questions which have the potential for cooperative research. Participants were introduced to the concurrent engineering process and methodology. Using that methodology, the brainstorming was capable of identifying areas which could potentially, after a next session of the seminar, serve to identify common research questions about this topic, for ESA ESTEC. 


The Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) at ESTEC has been used for more than 20 years.. What at first glance looks like just a digital meeting room is a facility optimised to conduct space mission design sessions., The CDF offers a way of collaborative design working in a concurrent way, instead of ‘throwing things over the fence’. It might look like this is because of the technology in the facility but in the CDF it is actually all about communication. 

Torsten Bieler, our CDF moderator for today and System Engineer at ESA ESTEC, says “when you have a task, a topic and a group of people, working on a same problem in a follow up way, then there is a large fault margin. Just like in the Chinese-whispers game, where you whisper a sentence to the person next to you and so on. At the end of the line, the sentence is never alike when it started. When you work concurrently, where each team member can communicate with any other team member,  you have a great advantage of minimalizing this fault margin. It’s not fault proof, but you really work with a team, where everyone is on the front lines.”


ESTEC mainly makes use of the CDF to design future missions. Over 400 successful missions studies have been performed in this room. When offered a model of a space mission, each domain expert has an input parameter for the next engineer who is engineering a part of the mission. So for example mission analysis derives the amount of propulsion, which will influence the size and number of tanks, this then becomes an input parameter for the configuration or the structures engineer, and so on. By working concurrently, you have a fast way of designing something that offers the best solution. But you can apply the methodology of the CDF for different topics. For example, ESTEC has received a shipyard company to show how Concurrent Design works, which helped them immensely with building ships and now they have their own CDF at the company itself. 


The participants for the Digital Twin Earth session ranged from exobiologists, to data analysts, a remote sensing journalist, a social professional, machine learning specialists and hardware development. Fields of interest were using digital twinning for exobiology, climate and oceans, and for the development of life science for space. The combination of multiple backgrounds, interests and having people joining the discussions from Leiden University, Wageningen University, ESTEC and multiple startups in data science, our the CDF moderator Torsten Bieler was very excited with the outcomes, as an excellent starting point and input for follow up sessions on Digital Twin Earth. 


“It’s a linear process where you validate the data with the hardware and the other way around. It’s not just you put in data from hardware once, it is about validating the data continually with the hardware,” says Tatjana Mandil from ESA ESTEC. 

Even though some of the questions were different, major topics came up. For example the community and the frontend users: what are we trying to tackle and at what stage ad who is involved in this? We are not starting from scratch, some info is readily available, and it needs to be readable for the end users, not just an algorithm that a farmer cannot read for his crops. It’s about the overall outlook, nothing is implex. Everyone has a slightly different interpretation, so defining this maybe taking into consideration. 


In the discussion itself, it got everyone excited about not only using models but combining the ideas about digital twinning. One of the ideas is to do this on a monthly basis, where we as a group create something really valuable for others outside of the campus area. 


The CDF and its methodology turned out to be a valuable approach for tackling the multidisciplinary challenge of digital twinning. It helps guide the discussions and to bring people from various disciplines together with guided moderation for exchange of information, ideas and needs. For now we are especially looking for people from other companies, universities and institutes  who would like to join follow-up sessions after the summer break, also happening at the CDF, in addition to the participants who joined today. 

If you are interested to keep in contact with this community specifically for researchers, where digital twinning is just one topic in the Curiosity Series: Research edition, you can join the linkedin group Space Research Challenges and Solutions Sharing Netherlands. Keep an eye on our website for updates about this series!

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