In the space industry, a digital twin is a highly detailed virtual model of a spacecraft, satellite, or any other space-related system. Due to the complexity and high stakes nature of missions, the space industry was an early adopter of digital twin technology.
NASA Lays the Groundwork
In the 1960s, NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration incorporates complex simulation and modeling techniques for spaceflight missions that can be seen as an early form of what would become the digital twin concept years later.
In the 2000s, the digital twin concept emerges after advancements in simulation and modeling technologies. Michael Grieves, now executive director of the Digital Twin Consortium, introduces the concept at the University of Michigan.
NASA’s Digital Twin Initiative
In 2010, NASA starts integrating digital twin into its space mission programs. The aim is to envision comprehensive models for spacecraft and space systems.
SpaceX Adopts Digital Twins
By 2012, SpaceX begins deploying digital twin technology for spacecraft design and testing to enhance development of reusable rockets.
In 2014, the European Space Agency – ESA uses digital twin-like simulations during its historic mission to land a probe on a comet.
ISS Digital Twin
In the mid-2010s, NASA starts developing a digital twin of the International Space Station (ISS) for testing and simulating on-orbit simulations.
Mars Rover Simulation
In 2017, NASA improves its planning and troubleshooting capabilities of rover activities on Mars thanks to digital twin technology.
In the late 2010s, private companies like OneWeb Technologies and SpaceX start deploying digital twins to manage and optimize their growing satellite constellations.
Satellite Predictive Maintenance
Also in the late 2010s, predictive maintenance and real-time monitoring of satellites using digital twins becomes more prevalent among operators.
Digital twinning has become more sophisticated in the 2020s, with AI integrations for predictive modeling and real-time analytics. Supporting the growing commercial space industry, lunar exploration, and deep space missions, digital twin is a critical component of spacecraft design, testing, and operations.