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Compass Lab

The Compass Lab conducts rapid conceptual spacecraft designs for NASA, industry, and the scientific community.

Facility Overview

Team logo featuring points of a compass on a celestial background.
Compass Team logo

Compass is a multi-disciplinary, concurrent engineering team at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Since 2006, the Compass Team has conducted mission, spacecraft, and trajectory designs and trade studies. The team performs integrated vehicle systems analysis, often focusing on integrating new technologies. More than 250 designs have been completed to date!

What We Do

Compass uses concurrent engineering and an experienced team to design space systems, typically over a 2-week period. Data sharing is accomplished using GLIDE, an in-house software solution. The basic process follows the following steps:

Graphic of the Compass design process, highlighting the iterative approach through various subsystems and centered around the GLIDE software.
Compass design process
  1. Define the problem definition with the customer
  2. Review similar past missions and designs
  3. Hold brainstorming sessions
  4. Start a strawman spacecraft CAD model
  5. Obtain and develop launch vehicle and trajectory options
  6. Develop a baseline design, leveraging GLIDE
  7. Develop any trade studies or “one-off” designs, leveraging GLIDE
  8. Iterate on the design(s) to achieve required cost/reliability/risk results
  9. Finalize the baseline and competing designs

Information about the Lessons Learned over the past 15 years of the Compass Team can be found here: Lessons Learned in Concurrent Mission and Systems Design at NASA Glenn Research Center: Almost Fifteen Years of the Compass Team

Design Experience

  • Designs span in size from large deep-space human exploration spacecraft all the way down to tiny cubesats
  • Destinations include all planets of our solar system, many moons, small bodies, and their surfaces
  • Mission types include technology demonstrators, science missions, human-rated missions, and design reference missions (DRMs)

Designs and Artwork

Our Team

The Compass team uses subject matter experts (SMEs) matrixed in from across the Research and Engineering Directorate at the Glenn Research Center. Along with the Team Lead and Lead Systems Engineer, these SMEs cover a wide range of expertise, including:

  • Guidance, Navigation, and Control
  • Command and Data Handling
  • Science
  • Electrical Power systems
  • Mission Design, Trajectory Design
  • Thermal Control
  • Chemical Propulsion
  • Electric Propulsion
  • Communications and Tracking
  • Structures and Mechanisms
  • Configuration, Computer Aided Design (CAD)
  • Cost Estimating
  • Risk
The Compass Team and Customers gather for a hybrid picture at the conclusion of another successful design study

Our Products and Capabilities

Each Compass study outputs a comprehensive chart package, master equipment list, and CAD model. Our products can be tailored to support customer needs, such as proposals and project reviews.

Chart Packages include the following:

  • Master equipment list based on work breakdown structure (WBS) elements
  • Cost estimate associated with WBS elements
  • Mission design and trajectory optimization
  • Trade space investigations
  • Concept of Operations (CONOPS)
  • Power modes and requirements definitions
  • Subsystem designs
  • CAD drawings
  • Risk assessment
  • Next steps, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

Upon request, a comprehensive final report can be written.

Overlapping panels display samples of Compass team products, such as a chart package, trajectories, CAD, and risk matrix.
Examples of Compass products available to customers.

Our Awards

  • Spaceflight Awareness Team Award
  • NASA Systems Engineering Award
  • NASA Honor Award: Group Achievement Award
  • Nominated: Rotary Stellar Award
Compass team members and management gather in two lines to pose for a group shot with NASA systems engineering award certificates.
The Compass Team and Management celebrate receiving the NASA Systems Engineering Award.

Our Customers

A collage of logos for customers from across academia, the government, and industry.
A sample of the Compass Team’s customers.

What is GLIDE?

GLIDE (Global Integrated Design Environment) is a data collaboration tool that enables secure transfer of data between a virtually unlimited number of sites, anywhere in the world.

A graphic showing that GLIDE interfaces between and Excel front end and a server/ data repository.
GLIDE allows the team to share data rapidly and securely.
  • Uses http protocols for data exchange
  • Ability to work within firewall network infrastructures
  • File sharing and database publish/subscribe capabilities with inherent data encryption
  • Vehicle subsystem models integrated via an Excel-based Vehicle Master Equipment List (MEL) worksheet

For more information on GLIDE see this paper on NTRS.

Contact Us

Do you have a design for the Compass Team to explore?

To solicit a Compass Study, or for further information on the Compass Team, process, or product options, please contact Steve Oleson, Compass Team Lead

Compass logo

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