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Team X reaches 1,000th study, looks forward
Team X reaches 1,000th study, looks forward

Using concurrent engineering tools and processes, Team X does rapid and thorough design and review of space missions. Team members recently celebrated reaching a milestone - their 1,000th study.


For 15 years now, the philosophy of JPL’s Team X has utilized the idea that pre-project design is as important to long-term missions as is staffing them with the right people. A recent dinner celebrating Team X’s 1,000th study commemorated its on-Lab significance and hinted at what’s to come.

“We never thought we’d do this many studies,” said Lab Director Charles Elachi during the May 17 reception held at Caltech’s Athenaeum. “Now, Team X is used as a model at other NASA centers and abroad. It’s something to be proud of.”

team X
This image shows Team X members with JPL Director Charles Elachi and Associate Director Firouz Naderi.

A Team X study allows teams to meet in the same facility and communicate in real time, together, cutting out the traditional serial process of mission development. The fact that 1,000 studies have been completed is not only astonishing for its abundance but also because of Team X’s role in streamlining JPL’s mission development process.

During the process, concepts and ideas are hammered into formal proposals by a design team that on average works over a three-day period, with each session lasting several hours. Collaboration comes from Lab-wide participants of many different disciplines.

In the studies, technology, planning and budgetary issues are discussed between the scientists and engineers in order to generate space mission concepts. A process called “concurrent engineering” is used to rapidly design, evaluate and analyze the early concepts.

“The last couple of years have been significant. All projects now come through Team X,” said Team X Advanced Design Methods Manager Rebecca Wheeler, of the Mission Systems Concepts Section. “Five years ago we were doing about 50 studies a year [and more recently] we’ve been doing about 80 to 90 a year.”

Within the facility are tools (such as databases, spreadsheets and modeling software) provided to team members to increase the quickness and efficiency of mission planning.

Team X has been such a success that when people think of JPL, said Firouz Naderi, the Lab's associate director for project formulation and strategy, among the top five or six things that come to mind are Voyager, the Mars Rovers—and Team X.

“It’s a noticeable attribute of JPL, and I hope you’re as proud of it as I,” he told attendees during the dinner. “There’s only one Elvis; all others follow in our footsteps. You are the Elvis of JPL.”

The Lab is recognizing that success by expanding Team X studies, Wheeler said. “JPL has really stepped up and now has more than 200 people trained to operate Team X. We’re expanding facilities again and now we run as many as six studies a week, with two or three teams.”

The highlight of the evening came during a presentation that recognized Team X members who had reached their 50th, 100th and 200th studies—and beyond.

“The fact that Team X has caught on and gained credibility is astonishing,” said Theodore Iskenderian, supervisor of the Actuators and Mechanisms Group, who was recognized for having participated in more than 100 studies. “Management thinks enough that everything gets routed through [this process].”

The clear winner in terms of completed Team X studies, Robert Miyake of the Mission and Technology Development Group, was credited with being a part of more than 650 studies and received a sustained standing ovation from attendees.

Also reaching the upper echelons was Aerospace employee Robert Kinsey of the Electronic Packaging and Fabrication Engineering Section (more than 400 studies). Aerospace and JPL collaborated in the early development of collaborative design teams, and Kinsey participated both as a study lead and as attitude control chair for Team X.

When asked what has changed since his first Team X study until now, Miyake said, tongue-in-cheek, “It’s gotten a lot more organized.”


Story by Catherine Sum
Republished with permission from Daily Planet, JPL’s intranet news website.

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