The To-Do List That May Change the World




In the early 1900s, the greatest challenges of the 20th century were becoming increasingly apparent, in much the same way they are today.   

It was time of growing populations. Horses were not providing enough mobility for expanding civilizations. People needed a readily available power source to enable mass production. And despite this growth, the average life expectancy was just around 50 years old.

So, gritty engineers and scientists went to work. The resulting surge in industrial capitalism was marked by affordable cars rolling off assembly lines, central power stations widely distributing electricity and electromagnetic radiation helping to diagnose medical ailments.

This era successfully lifted millions out of poverty, extended human lives and connected a global community. Today, societies now confront a new set of questions about the ecological and social issues that arise with that success.   

For the century ahead, the National Academy of Engineering has developed a list of Grand Challenges for Engineering—the most pressing facing our world today—and is convening technical thinkers from around the world to address them head on.

“To create sustainable societies on a planet with finite resources, we will need significant multi-faceted innovation,” said Jason Jay, director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan School of Management. “This includes technological innovation but also organizational, institutional, and social/cultural innovations to help get technologies to the necessary scale.”

With a legacy of solving complex challenges, companies like Lockheed Martin are stepping up to the challenge, relying on principles of systems engineering to design and manage systems that will change the world today without compromising the future.

Read on for three challenges we’re tackling today:


INSIGHT: While renewables—such as solar or wind power—are providing more energy than ever to the grid, the unpredictable patterns of things like the sun and wind make managing energy flows challenging, and subsequently not cost-effective. Energy storage that can operate for hours at a time is needed to store the energy from these sources and then release it whenever there is a peak in demand. Long-duration energy storage systems for utilities, as well as commercial and industrial customers, will ensure energy from these renewable sources is available 24/7. Safely adding more clean power to electricity grids helps reduce carbon emissions and supports efforts to improve electricity access to the nearly 1.3 billion people (18 percent of the global population) who lack access to modern energy. READ MORE


INSIGHT 1: Space is the backbone for moving data around the world. Satellites enable smart phones, satellite television, ATMs, GPS navigation, climate monitoring and more. Now, emerging technology is bringing into view the Internet of Things—an increasing number of objects with a digital footprint and integrated into a broader network. As this new world arises, the A2100 satellite’s evolved digital processor will provide increased connectivity. “Our customers talk a lot about how many data bits they can deliver over this satellite. It can bring hundreds of beams, and its digital processor can connect all of those beams,” said Barry Noakes, chief engineer for Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Commercial Space Line of Business. “You just can’t do that in an analog world.” READ MORE

INSIGHT 2: As global population swells (by 1 billion in the next decade), so too will cargo and passenger air traffic. To monitor and account for more crowded skies, NextGen technology uses 4-D trajectory models that can predict the path of each aircraft in time and space and help navigate the most efficient routes. With technology like the En Route Automation Modernization program or ERAM, pre-departure reroute and airborne reroute capabilities can automatically transmit re-routing information from the traffic manager to the pilot and dispatcher. In planning for arrivals, we are also designing systems using time-based separation between aircraft that can potentially halve delays from headwinds. READ MORE

INSIGHT 3: The Earth isn’t the only place getting crowded. According to the United States Space Surveillance Network, more than 21,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters are currently orbiting the Earth. This debris threatens communications infrastructure—not only commercial satellites but also military assets that help monitor and protect nations around the world. Lockheed Martin’s work on the U.S. Air Force Space Fence program will make 1.5 million observations a day to detect, track, measure and catalog items as small as a baseball—and will support catalog growth to 200,000 objects. That’s a ten-fold increase compared to the number of objects tracked today and will ensure we can continue to make advancements in space travel. READ MORE


INSIGHT: The health, well-being and development prospects of citizens around the globe rely on a safe and secure web envi­ronment. Even solutions like a pandemic response and better customer service increasingly rely on digital tools. Yet today’s hyper-connectivity increases the impact and fre­quency of cyber threats perpetrated by insiders, “hacktivists,” terrorists and nation-state adversaries. Lockheed Martin’s cybersecurity team has developed a layered framework approach to safeguarding information that is setting the industry standard. For government customers, our cyber experts not only build protective systems but also allow potentially virulent code to be introduced and studied without compromising actual networks. READ MORE

INSIGHT 2: For large oil and gas exploration and production operations, around-the-clock response teams need to communicate effectively across geographies to thwart IT intrusions. Getting a consolidated view of incidents helps teams build a central repository of information and better understand system vulnerabilities. The quicker the team’s responsiveness, the more equipped they are to predict and detect attacks. Our cyber applications help businesses responsible for protecting critical operation evolve from purely reactive to mining actionable intelligence. READ MORE


Earlier this month, at the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing, the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the Royal Academy of Engineering continued the conversation about meeting these challenges.

From engineering leaders to policy makers and students, the summit united a cross section of people around ideas that can be applied today.

“Across industry, academia and government, engineers are on the front lines tackling the toughest problems we face in society today—and anticipating the challenges of the future,” said Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Dr. Keoki Jackson. “The Global Grand Challenges Summit is an opportunity to convene an international community and to set a path to realize the next great engineering achievements that will define the 21st century.”