Software Tools Tackle Aerospace System Design

Software Tools Tackle Aerospace System Design

Computer-aided-engineering software tools such as MATLAB and Simulink allow EW and ECM system designers to model the effects of changes in design.

Computer software orchestrates the operation of many defense systems, including electronic-warfare (EW) and electronic-countermeasures (ECM) systems, but can also aid in the design of multiple other types of systems. Software tools like MATLAB and Simulink from MathWorks allow system developers to practice model-based design (MBD) when developing their systems, to better understand their systems under different simulated operating conditions, and help reduce the overall design time.

The MATLAB and Simulink modeling tools are particularly useful in predicting the performance of electromechanical-system designs, in which the control of the system as well as the system itself must be modeled. To that end, MathWorks recently introduced (in its Release 2018b) Aerospace Blockset tools for the flight-control analysis of aerospace vehicles and Aerospace Toolbox capabilities for customizing the user interfaces of aerospace vehicle cockpit flight instruments.

These two software products provide different but complementary functions for aerospace and defense system designers. For those comfortable with expressing design ideas in terms of matrices and arrays, MATLAB is a math-based analysis program that can perform extensive analyses on a PC. It predicts how different algorithms will work with different bodies of data. When applied to larger network or “cloud” applications, the math analysis tool can scale as needed to prevent a computer from running out of memory when performing an extended analysis routine.

Simulink, on the other hand, is a software tool for simulating the performance of experimental and production systems under different and changing conditions, such as the demanding environments often faced by defense and aerospace systems. Simulink attempts to approximate what a real-world system will experience in a laboratory, without the long times of preparing the laboratory, the test equipment, and the test setups for each experiment.

For many designs, just having a software simulation version of a system can save countless hours in learning how that system might perform when facing arctic cold or desert heat—without having to recreate those environmental conditions in a laboratory. Because it’s software, with a well-defined heritage and proven track record, users can combine different conditions (e.g., humidity, temperature, shock, and vibration) as part of a simulation without having to set up the physical equipment each time and receive simulated results.


Simulink can maintain traceability from initial requirements to the control code for a microprocessor when developing the control software for a complex system.

In addition, Simulink can maintain traceability from initial requirements to the control code for a microprocessor when developing the control software for a complex system (see figure). And, in many cases, it can automatically generate production-quality code for use by the microprocessors in a defense and aerospace system

MATLAB and Simulink are supported by large code libraries and toolboxes. These allow users to “find” a function they may need for a more complex system without having to develop a software version of each function in a system.

To ease code development, algorithms developed and available in MATLAB can be added to a Simulink simulation as needed by applying the appropriate MATLAB code to a Simulink block. Existing toolboxes are available for a wide range of subsystems, including image processing, computer vision, and machine control, with new toolboxes being added to the product line on a regular basis.

One of the better-known systems that MATLAB and Simulink software helped in speeding the design process is the European Union’s (EU’s) Galileo satellite navigation system, an alternative to the U.S. satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS). A software receiver for the Galileo Receiver Analysis and Design Application (GRANADA), which enables the integration of different receiver technologies within Galileo, was developed entirely through means of simulations within MATLAB and Simulink.

MathWorks, 1 Apple Hill Dr., Natick, MA 01760-2098; (508) 647-7000, FAX: (508) 647-7001.

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