On July 20th, the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. Today, on the corresponding anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch, we celebrate the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) specialists that made it all possible. These space pioneers have inspired generations of aerospace startups, and multinational corporations, to pursue the impossible. With the help of simulation, these organizations continue to accelerate the development of the aerospace and defense industry.
Ask most of the people who were alive 50 years ago and they will distinctly remember Neil Armstrong climbing down the ladder onto the moon. The print Armstrong left in the lunar powder has become a part of our cultural iconography.
The words he spoke, as he took that first giant leap, were dominos in a series of STEM innovations. One man represented all of humanity in an achievement that had no precedent.
But he wasn’t really alone. Buzz Aldrin joined him on the surface, Michael Collins offered support from the command and service module (CSM), mission control offered support from the ground and a team of STEM specialists created all the equipment that made spaceflight a reality.
This team left the people watching at home with the sense that everything is possible, accelerating the development of countless technologies that have brought us into the modern age of computers, batteries, materials and more.
The Shifting Goals of NASA Encourages Industry
The challenges NASA faced during Apollo 11’s design, development and operation were unparalleled — and still impressive to this day.
NASA put a man on the lunar surface just 8 years after Alan Shepard was the first American in space and President Kennedy declared that the next goal was the moon. At this point, many of the questions NASA needed to answer to make the Apollo missions possible were still unknown.
Just think of the level of complexity and the jobs it created. Under the control of Major General Samuel C. Phillips, NASA managed over 500 contractors, close to half a dozen prime contractors and over 250 subcontractors. These contractors were producing, designing and assembling millions of parts and components. Each part had to meet tight specification, performance and reliability constraints. In total, this project cost over $24 billion (close to $170 billion after inflation).
Today we are living in a new era of spaceflight. Now the goal is to develop faster and cheaper access to the final frontier. The industry growth that will come from the commercialization of low Earth orbit (LEO) and Mars missions will enable the development of satellites, sensors, communication systems, habitats, rovers, spacesuits and more.
Apollo’s Legacy of Space Exploration Shifts to Aerospace Startups and Corporations
NASA is no longer the grand overseer of the space industry. It is still defining the top-level capabilities needed to sustain economic space flight, but it’s letting aerospace startups and corporations figure out the details.
This shift encouraged companies and startups to take on the challenges of spaceflight with a fresh mind. These companies are looking to develop many technologies, including:
- More efficient propulsion systems
- Lighter and reusable boosters
- Lighter and stronger materials
- Efficient additive manufacturing processes
ANSYS Pervasive Engineering Simulation software is helping both established and startup companies design these aerospace and defense innovations. Multiphysics simulations make it possible to study complex aerospace phenomena, so companies can ensure the performance of their components, and iterate designs, in a fast and affordable way.
Modern simulation is a big step from the expensive — and painstaking — trial and error most space pioneers were limited to during the era of Apollo.
Interesting Aerospace Startups Blast Off to the Market
Many aerospace startups have the same enthusiasm of the space pioneers — just look at the following video of engineers from PLD Space. It shows their absolute joy when they light their engine up for the first time. As for PLD Space’s test flight mentioned in the video, it was success and ahead of schedule — thanks in part to its use of ANSYS simulation technology.
For other examples of how aerospace startups use simulation to continue the legacy of space pioneering, look to:
- Vector reducing the long queue to launch satellites
- ARC taking inspiration from nature and fractals to design rocket engines
- Relativity Space building the biggest 3D printer in the world to produce boosters
- World Wide Enterprises designing stratolite balloons that park payloads up to 95,000 feet
These young companies are able to compete with established industry players because they have access to the same simulation technologies — thanks to the ANSYS Startup Program.
Exploration, the desire to know, to discover what’s next. This is a big part of the Apollo legacy. One that lives on in ANSYS and the hundreds of companies it works with to build a better future. To learn how simulation is helping to bring aerospace and defense into the next era, read: Accelerate Defense Technology Innovation.