Engineering Systems Laboratory


The Engineering Systems Laboratory (ESL) is part of the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Research Mission

The ESL studies the underlying principles and methods for designing complex socio-technical systems that involve a mix of architecture, technologies, organizations, policy issues and complex networked operations. Our focus is on aerospace and other systems critical to society such as product development, manufacturing and large scale infrastructures.

System Architecture Group

The System Architecture Group studies the early-stage technical decisions that will determine the majority of the system's performance. We have helped architect systems from earth observation networks, to lunar surface exploration vehicles. The lab’s key contention is that by identifying the most important initial technical decisions and exhaustively enumerating their options, the best potential designs are identified prior to the detailed design activities. Our work stands in contrast to a traditional trade-study perspective, where two to four points designs are compared, without reference to the intervening options or to a fully explored tradespace. The emerging field of System Architecture aims to understand what patterns emerge across disparate domains, to gain an understanding of the making of good architecture.  System architecture models look broadly across possible technologies, subsystems, and use contexts. Although each model employs problem-specific parametrics, we have advanced the state of the art by developing unique and generalizable approach to structuring complex systems architecting problems that can be applied across disciplines.

MIT System Architecture Lab exploring Mars

System Safety and Cybersecurity Group

The goal of the System Safety and Cybersecurity Group is to create new tools and processes that will allow us to engineer a safer world. Engineering safer systems requires multi-disciplinary and collaborative research based on sound system engineering principles, that is, it requires a holistic systems approach. Our group has participants from multiple engineering disciplines and MIT schools as well as collaborators at other universities and in other countries. Current students are working on safety in aviation (aircraft and air transportation systems), spacecraft, medical devices and healthcare, automobiles, railroads, nuclear power, defense systems, energy, and large manufacturing/process facilities. Cross-discipline topics include:

  • Hazard analysis
  • Accident causality analysis and accident investigation
  • Safety-guided design
  • Human factors and safety
  • Integrating safety into the system engineering process
  • Identifying leading indicators of increasing risk
  • Certification, regulation, and standards
  • The role of culture, social, and legal systems on safety

AIrcraft flight deck (NASA)

Strategic Engineering Research Group

The Strategic Engineering Research Group within ESL studies long-lived systems on Earth and in Space. This includes the design and operation of critical infrastructures such as industrial manufacturing, transportation, earth observation, defense, water, energy and food supply systems as well as the challenges of sustained human and robotic exploration and settlement of outer space. We develop validated models and simulations to support strategic decisions under uncertainty, including selection of technologies and system evolutionary pathways. Sponsors include national science and government agencies such as NASA, DARPA and the U.S. Navy, as well as non-profits and major industrial firms.

MIT Strategic Engineering Research Group