The exchange of models is one of the most serious problems currently encountered in the practice of spacecraft thermal analysis. Essentially, the problem originates in the diversity of computing environments that are used across different sites, and the consequent proliferation of native tool formats.
Furthermore, increasing pressure to reduce the development's life cycle time has originated a growing interest in the so-called spacecraft concurrent engineering. In this context, the realisation of the interdependencies between different disciplines and the proper communication between them become critical issues.
The use of a neutral format represents a step forward in addressing these problems. Such a means of communication is adopted by consensus. A neutral format is not directly tied to any specific tool and it is kept under stringent change control. Currently, most of the groups promoting exchange formats are contributing with their experience to STEP, the Standard for Exchange of Product Model Data, which is being developed under the auspices of the International Standards Organization (ISO 10303).
This paper presents the different efforts made in Europe to provide the spacecraft thermal analysis community with a Thermal Neutral Format (TNF) based on STEP. Following an introduction with some background information, the paper presents the characteristics of the STEP standard. Later, the first efforts to produce a STEP Spacecraft Thermal Application Protocol are described. Finally, the paper presents the currently harmonised European activities that follow up and extend earlier work on the area.