Although Systems Engineering has been widely applied to the defence industry, many other projects are unaware of its potential benefits when correctly applied, assuming that it is an expensive luxury. It seems that except in a few instances, telescope projects are no exception, prompting the writing of this paper. The authors postulate that classical Systems Engineering can and should be tailored, and then applied to telescope projects, leading to cost, schedule and technical benefits. This paper explores the essence of Systems Engineering and how it can be applied to any complex development project. The authors cite real-world Systems Engineering examples from the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). The SALT project is the development and construction of a 10m-class telescope at the price of a 4m telescope. Although SALT resembles the groundbreaking Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) in Texas, the project team are attempting several challenging changes to the original design, requiring a focussed engineering approach and discernment in the definition of the telescope requirements. Following a tailored Systems Engineering approach on this project has already enhanced the quality of decisions made, improved the fidelity of contractual specifications for subsystems, and established criteria testing their performance.
Systems Engineering, as applied on SALT, is a structured development process, where requirements are formally defined before the award of subsystem developmental contracts. During this process conceptual design, modeling and prototyping are performed to ensure that the requirements were realistic and accurate. Design reviews are held where the designs are checked for compliance with the requirements. Supplier factory and on-site testing are followed by integrated telescope testing, to verify system performance against the specifications. Although the SALT project is still far from completion, the authors are confident that the present benefits from Systems Engineering on the project will be felt through telescope commissioning and testing.