Engineering an Impact on the New Frontier

By NSS Member Bradley Williams

It was a chilly December morning; I was 10 years old and sitting on the cold, hard floor of my elementary school library…too enthralled and focused on a 20-inch television screen to realize how uncomfortable I was. The TV was showing a live stream of Entry, Decent, and Landing (EDL) activities being commanded by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was very quiet. And, expecting that at any moment the engineers and scientists on the television would burst into excitement and applause, I wasn’t about to be the first of my classmates to break the silence. We sat there for 45 minutes—what seemed like a lifetime to a group of 5th graders—before my teacher finally got up and turned off the TV. Mrs. Storar, being fluent in space history and blessed with an understanding of mission architecture, gently informed us that something had gone wrong and the Mars Polar Lander would likely never be heard from again. It was an unlikely experience to spur passion and inspiration in a 10-year-old, but from that moment I was completely hooked on space exploration.

Systems Engineer Bradley Williams with the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in the Lockheed Martin cleanroom.

Systems Engineer Bradley Williams with the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in the Lockheed Martin cleanroom.

My name is Bradley Williams and I am a Systems Engineer for the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS). OCAMS is a set of three cameras on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that will provide the imagery of asteroid Bennu during the OSIRIS-REx mission. Driven by science and innovation, my goal has always been to make an impact in cutting edge space exploration and in the technology that gives us access to explore the truly NEW frontier—space.

I came to the University of Arizona looking for a way I could impact…I mean, leave an impression on the space industry (people in this field don’t like using the word “impact”). While studying mechanical engineering, I also submerged myself in planetary science and eventually gained a minor in the field. In no other field can you take courses taught by Dr. Alfred McEwen, Principal Investigator (PI) of the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and get the opportunity to request your own high resolution observations of Mars’ surface to write a paper on. I credit much of my career to the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory’s unique ability to provide students with the opportunity to network with space community leaders and ground-breaking innovators. It was an astrobiology course taught by Phoenix Mars Lander PI, Dr. Peter Smith, that opened the door to the path that has led me to where I am today.

Whether it was my persistence or eagerness to get involved, Dr. Smith eventually found me a spot as a research assistant developing CubeSat applications through an electronics test and integration program. During my tenure in the UA’s L-CAVE (Lab of CubeSat Applications and Vehicular Exploration), I had the chance to meet several future members of the OSIRIS-REx OCAMS team. So when NASA awarded the OSIRIS-REx mission to the University of Arizona, things happened fast—and I am talking “rocket escape velocity” fast. In no time, I had transitioned over to the OCAMS team to work on numerous systems engineering tasks for Cat Merrill, the Lead Systems Engineer for OCAMS. The learning curve was steep but it was exhilarating at the same time.

Bradley Williams, who began working on the OCAMS instrument as a University of Arizona student, is now part of the team guiding OCAMS through the ATLO process.

Bradley Williams, who began working on the OCAMS instrument as a University of Arizona student, is now part of the team guiding OCAMS through the ATLO process.

While still a student, my early responsibilities included assisting in the maturation of the Integrated Master Schedule (IMS), and managing the OCAMS requirements. After graduating with my mechanical engineering degree, I was given the opportunity to remain on the project as a full-time engineer. Obviously, I was ecstatic. How many people get the chance to start their career with their dream job, RIGHT? As grateful as I was, my role rapidly evolved. My requirements role quickly turned into the responsibility to design a verification program that could be used to validate the 2,000 mission requirements levied upon the OCAMS instrument, its subsystems, and its components. Once you know how to verify that the right system was built and that it was built correctly, you then have to design an integration and test program. The goal was to incrementally satisfy these requirements while the three OCAMS cameras and control electronics were being built, thus buying down risk that large problems would occur later. This included working with vendors of critical parts, subsystems, and assemblies to ensure that the requirements in the statement of work were verified prior to their delivery to OCAMS.

Again, a unique experience emerged. I was thrown into the OCAMS cleanroom (not literally—you have to properly suit up first to protect the spaceflight hardware from contamination risks) to execute many of the procedures I had authored. From running performance tests in the thermal vacuum chamber to performing functional tests on electronics and cameras after coming off the “vibe table” (and trust me there are no good vibes about it—watching an instrument you’ve spent endless hours and weekends building and perfecting be strapped to a violently shaking table is terrifying). Prior to that, I worked side by side with our mechanical assemblers to verify that our mechanical interfaces met spec before the final torqueing and staking of fasteners. You don’t want to get to the spacecraft and realize that your instrument doesn’t fit the footprint allocated by the spacecraft.

One of the key tests I shepherded through the OCAMS environmental test program was the Electromagnetic Interference and Compatibility test (EMI-EMC for short). I worked with the RF experts at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to identify the proper standardized test setups for our mission, and then conveyed those requirements to the vendor to itemize contract deliverables. Negotiating statements of work may sound dull and exhausting, but you obviously haven’t spent much time in an anechoic chamber. This is where EMI/EMC testing occurs. The chamber is designed to be non-reflective and completely silent to noise, from either external sounds or internal electromagnetic waves (so good luck getting a wifi signal in there). Through our testing, we determined that there were no excessive emissions by the OCAMS instrument, especially in the frequency band that the spacecraft uses to communicate. We also verified that the OCAMS camera performance is not susceptible to any of the emissions we may experience during operations near and around the asteroid Bennu. Recently, I also had the chance to support the same testing but at the vehicle (spacecraft) level. The difference with this test was that all of the payloads (instruments) were on the spacecraft and were actively and concurrently producing science data. This test validated our instrument level results and provided the verification necessary to prove there would be no impact to the launch vehicle (an Atlas V rocket) or the spacecraft during launch activities.

The three cameras of OCAMS sit in an anechoic chamber while undergoing EMI-EMC testing.

The three cameras of OCAMS sit in an anechoic chamber while undergoing EMI-EMC testing.

Fortunately, after the conclusion of the OCAMS test program and the delivery of the instrument to the spacecraft, I have been able to continue with OCAMS in providing ATLO (spacecraft Assembly Test Launch Operations) support. Being knowledgeable in OCAMS’s functionality and commanding, I work closely with the operations team to define system verification tests that prove out different phases of the mission before launch. This has given me insight into the future decisions that will have to be made during mission science operations to coordinate and balance science value with operational risk.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is awe-inspiring. It pushes the limits of current space exploration efforts and will help shape and guide future generations of scientists and engineers. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, my inspiration was derived from previous space endeavors, and I hope to continue this “pay-it-forward” attitude to help inspire this country’s future doers and dreamers.

Posted in Space Exploration | Tagged | Leave a comment

NSS Space Ambassadors Program Update

The NSS Space Ambassadors Program is a venue to allow people worldwide to communicate the benefits of space exploration to our daily lives and to inspire and educate young people and the public to pursue careers in science, engineering, and mathematics. The goal is to inspire the next generation of leaders to embrace and pursue the vision of people living and working in space. Lots of people have participated, and NSS is now completing the first phase of the Space Ambassadors Program. The Top Ten Ambassadors will present examples of their work at the upcoming ISDC 2016 in Puerto Rico on May 19, 2016. Based on their work, the Top Ten will be rank-ordered, and they will select an NSS training assignment from the following sponsors:

  • Aurora Aerospace: Two zero-G training assignments in their Rockwell-700 aircraft (2 awardees)
  • Kepler Space Institute: A $5000 scholarship
  • ETC’s The NASTAR Center: One assignment to their Basic Suborbital Space Training program
  • Zero Gravity Corp: One ZERO-G experience in their Boeing-727 aircraft

For more information see www.spaceambassadors.com.

Posted in National Space Society | Leave a comment

International/U.S. Students and Teachers Head to Puerto Rico for International Space Development Conference

Hundreds of students and teachers from the United States and countries across the globe will converge in Puerto Rico next month for the National Space Society’s (NSS) 35th annual International Space Development Conference® (ISDC) to celebrate and engage people in the goal of space settlement. The event is set for May 18-22, 2016 at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Students attending the conference, grades 6-12, will be sharing their imaginative ideas about how people will be living and working in space. They are attending the conference as a result of their participation in this year’s NSS/NASA Ames Space Settlement Contest, co-sponsored by the National Space Society and NASA Ames Research Center. The contest challenges students to design a space settlement, which must realistically address concerns such as atmosphere, food, gravity, radiation shielding, energy production, and recreation for human space colonists.

“The students attending the ISDC are so passionate and excited to be there to share their ideas and projects. There is so much to learn from them, their cultures, and creative insights,” said Lynne F. Zielinski, NSS vice president of public affairs and chair of NSS’ education and outreach committee. “We are always dazzled by their insightful and futuristic designs. Their enthusiasm is infectious and gives us all hope that we will soon be living and working in space ourselves. These students are the ones to take us there.”

Project Divinity Team

Each year, NSS invites contest participants to attend the organization’s ISDC. Throughout the conference, students will provide oral presentations about their space settlement designs, along with colorful artwork related to the contest. The NSS/NASA Ames Space Settlement Contest’s Grand Prize winner, Project Divinity team, will receive the $5,000 NSS Bruce M. Clark, Jr. Memorial Scholarship.

The Project Divinity team is comprised of five students, SeungHyeon Do (Kongju High School, grade 12), JaeHun Jang (Korea Science Academy, 12), DongHyun Kim (Korea Science Academy, 12), YongSung Park (GwangJu Munsung High High School, 11), HwanSung Jang (Korean Minjok Leadership Academy, 11) under the mentorship of KangSan Kim, from Incheon, Republic of Korea (South Korea). (www.nss.org/settlement/nasa/Contest/Results/2016/ProjectDivinity.pdf).

“Project Divinity is a space settlement for 10,000 individuals situated in the Equatorial Low Earth Orbit (ELEO), 500 km altitude above the equator. It is built in the near future where space tourism, coupled with commercial development of launch vehicles, provides enough incentives for primitive forms of space industry to grow. Project Divinity describes how the Divinity space settlement and its neighboring facilities can become the foundation for a new market for outer space.”

This year’s competition received 996 entries from 4,017 students. Entries came from 23 countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, England, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Poland, Republic of Korea (So.Korea), Romania, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela. U.S. entries were received from 15 states and territories: California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

ISDC is the yearly conference of the National Space Society, a non-profit organization that has hosted the gathering since 1982. The event brings together leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and business people from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.

Online registration is currently open with a variety of options, from single-day registration passes to full conference registration with meals. Discounts are provided for youth, full-time students, seniors, and members of the National Space Society and its affiliates.

“We would like to invite local attendees interested in space to the annual conference of the world’s premier space public interest group,” stated Aggie Kobrin, the conference organizer and NSS board member. “Kids today are somewhat lacking in inspiration to pursue STEM fields and this conference is making giant strides to solve this problem.”

For more information, visit isdc2016.nss.org.

Posted in ISDC, National Space Society | Leave a comment

Videos of the SpaceX Reusable Rocket Program

Below are two 5-minute videos about the reusable rocket development program of SpaceX. The first video shows the live coverage of the first successful landing on an autonomous spaceport drone ship, with the tremendous excitement of the SpaceX team very audible in the background. The second video is a cool compilation of SpaceX reusable rocket testing over the previous four years.

Posted in Commercial Spaceflight | Leave a comment

The Billionaire’s Race to Colonize Space: Blue Origin and SpaceX

Elon Musk has made it clear that his mission with SpaceX is to colonize Mars and to help humanity become a multi-planet species.

Jeff Bezos states that Blue Origin is “working hard to bring closer the day when millions of people can live and work in space.”

See the interesting article on this subject by Trevor Nace on The Next Web Insider.

Posted in Commercial Spaceflight, Space Settlement | Leave a comment

Acclaimed Science Fiction Author Dr. Jerry Pournelle Wins the National Space Society Robert A. Heinlein Award

Jerry PournelleThe National Space Society takes great pleasure in announcing that its 2016 Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award has been won by acclaimed science fiction author Dr. Jerry Pournelle. This prestigious award selected by an international vote of NSS members will be presented to Dr. Jerry Pournelle at the 2016 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). The public is welcome to attend the conference and see the award presentation at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The ISDC will run from May 18-22, 2016.

About Dr. Jerry Pournelle

This award recognizes Dr. Jerry Pournelle’s many years of support for space science, exploration, development and settlement and his close association with Robert Heinlein. He was active in the NSS predecessor, the L5 Society, during its early years. Jerry served as co-chair of the very first ISDC, NSS secretary, and as a Board member.

Jerry was also Chair of the Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy. This group was active during the 1980s and was one of the most effective groups promoting specific space related policy positions at that time. Robert Heinlein was also an active member of that group. The group’s early support of missile defense eventually led to the perceived need for an inexpensive launcher. The briefing that he and two others gave to then Vice President Quayle was instrumental in getting the approval of the DC-X program, overcoming government skepticism about the project. Jerry was present at White Sands on September 11, 1993 when the first large rocket, the DC-X vehicle, was reused.

Jerry has consistently supported the vision of self-sustaining human settlements in space and on planetary surfaces, and as part of a free, spacefaring civilization, which is at the very heart of the space movement. Jerry’s work as a science fiction author, focusing on science fiction with realistic physics, has contributed to a better understanding of the limitations and the abilities of human space operations. Few have made such a rich contribution to these fields.

About the Robert A. Heinlein Award

This award is presented once every two years for lifetime achievement in promoting the goal of a free, spacefaring civilization. The winner is decided by the vote of the entire NSS membership, not by the awards committee. The award consists of a miniature signal cannon, on a mahogany base with a black granite inlay and a brass plaque as shown. The award concept came from Robert Heinlein’s classic book The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Some of the early award winners include Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Neil Armstrong and Elon Musk. More information about this award and the past winners is at:  www.nss.org/awards/heinlein_award.html.

NSS Heinlein Award

Posted in ISDC, National Space Society | Leave a comment

National Space Society Applauds SpaceX First Stage Drone Ship Landing and Successful Launch of CRS8/BEAM to the ISS

With a successful launch on April 8 at 4:43 PM EST, 2016 SpaceX achieved several dramatic milestones on their first supply run to the International Space Station (ISS) following the loss of a Falcon 9 in June of 2015. For the first time ever, the first stage of a rocket both returned intact to Earth and landed on a drone ship at sea. This new capability will enable lower-cost access to space by saving the fuel otherwise needed to fly the first stage back to the launch site, which SpaceX has previously demonstrated.

Falcon barge landing

In addition to this remarkable achievement, the Falcon 9 lofted the Cargo Resupply Services 8 mission (CRS-8) to the ISS. This is the 10th flight of the Dragon spacecraft. Once the Dragon docks at the ISS, for only the second time ever there will be six spacecraft attached to the ISS (Dragon CRS-8, Cygnus CRS OA-6, two Progress, and two Soyuz lifeboats). The Dragon contains a variety of experiments, including a cargo of live rats which will be used to test drugs that may combat the weakening of bones in space and on Earth.

In addition to pressurized cargo in the Dragon, an unpressurized “trunk” houses the 1,413 kilogram Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), an inflatable module that will be attached to the ISS for two years to test this new technology. The module, once inflated, will be 13.2 feet by 10.6 feet, and will provide a total volume of 564 cubic feet.

“In this mission it is hard to know what to be the most excited about,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “SpaceX continues to break new ground in lowering the cost of going into space, and the drone ship landing is key to maximizing the amount that can be lifted into space by a first stage that is flying back to Earth. BEAM will pave the way for more affordable future commercial and deep space stations.”

Recently Blue Origin re-used its sub-orbital New Shepard booster on a flight to the Karman line (the edge of space) for the third time and returned the rocket to its launch site for further re-use. “Competition like that seen between Blue Origin and SpaceX is the key to rapid progress in space,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President. “NSS has strongly supported competition in both the NASA Commercial Re-supply Services program and the Commercial Crew program. Today’s drone ship landing is a direct result of the competitive, commercial nature of these efforts, and NSS advocates extending these types of programs into cis-lunar space.”

Lowering the cost of access to space is key to NSS’s vision of our future in space (see www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap) and today’s events have brought that future materially closer.

Posted in National Space Society, Space Policy | Leave a comment

Mr. Orlando Figueroa to Receive the National Space Society’s 2016 Space Pioneer Award for Non-Legislative Government Service

Orlando FigueroaMr. Orlando Figueroa is a winner of the National Space Society’s 2016 Space Pioneer Award for non-Legislative Government Service. This award recognizes the work he has done at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA Headquarters, including serving as the NASA Deputy Chief Engineer, Director for Mars Exploration, and other important positions at Goddard in engineering, management and as a Deputy Center Director for Science and Technology.

“It is an honor to be recognized for whatever contribution I and the NASA teams I was privileged to lead made to the exploration of space and to science, and to be able to enjoy as much,” said Mr. Figueroa.

Mr. Figueroa will accept the award on May 19 at the National Space Society’s 2016 International Space Development Conference® (isdc.nss.org/2016). This will be the 35th ISDC and will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino. The conference will run from May 18-22, 2016.

About the Space Pioneer Award

NSS Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at left, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. NSS has several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988. Some of the recent winners of Space Pioneer Awards include Elon Musk, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bigelow, citizen astronaut Anouseh Ansari, Dr. Kip Thorne, and the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission team.

About Mr. Orlando Figueroa 

After starting work at the Goddard Space Flight Center in 1978, Mr. Figueroa served as manager and director of a very wide variety of Programs and organizations at NASA Goddard and at NASA Headquarters. His work on cryogenics may assist future development for storage and the transfer in space of such liquids as rocket propellants. Cryogenic storage and transfer technology is an enabler for reusable in-space vehicles and routine space operations.

NSS especially appreciates his many accomplishments during his years as Director for Mars Exploration. After the double failures of the 1998-9 Mars missions, just five years later Dr. Figueroa led NASA’s achievement of the double successes of Spirit and Opportunity. These were dramatic comebacks for NASA and the planetary program. These programs are vital for both basic planetary science and to provide climate and geological information about Mars for future human exploration. The confidence building successes of the Mars Exploration Rovers led directly to the development of the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, while the Opportunity rover is still collecting vital geological information 12 years later.

Posted in ISDC, National Space Society | Leave a comment

Winners of 2016 NSS Space Settlement Student Art Contest Announced

NSS has opened a new website gallery for the 2016 NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement International Student Art Contest.

The Grand Prize winning entry, entitled “Pioneers of the Cosmos,” paints a picture of hope for the future of humanity. Successful habitation of an orbital space settlement and propagation of the human species in space has been accomplished. The foreground of this image reveals an intimate family setting after the birth of a new baby. Neptune, reflected in a light sail, and its moon Triton are visible in the background through the large window of the birthing room.

Pioneers of the Cosmos

“Pioneers of the Cosmos” is a digital painting by Adrianna Allen, a student from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI, where she is working on a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Medical Illustration. She has a website at photonillustration.com.

Posted in National Space Society, Space Art | Leave a comment

BEAM Me Up, Elon: Inflatable Module Sets Off to ISS

By Alyssa Samson

Like a page out of a sci-fi novel, balloon-like rooms might be the future of space habitation. On Friday, April 8th, SpaceX is scheduled to launch the latest technology for space habitats, an inflatable module called Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), created by Bigelow Aerospace. Weighing about 14,000 kilograms, this new space module might hold the key to sustainable, livable space conditions – providing working and residency areas for astronauts with reduced costs.

The 8-foot bundle will travel aboard the Dragon spacecraft for two days, where it will be attached to the International Space Station (ISS) and deployed. The module will be roughly the size of a car or small bedroom. Here is a 2-minute BEAM installation animation:

BEAM will be tested by the ISS for roughly two years. While no astronauts will live in the module while it’s in space, they will periodically inspect it and record data. Scientists will use the designated time to determine its radiation protection capability, transportation effectiveness, as well as the product’s design performance – such as thermal and structural durability. BEAM has been designed with multiple thick layers of fabric to help prevent damage against space debris.

Findings from this two year mission will allow Bigelow engineers to modify the company’s larger model, the B330, which is designed to hold six astronauts and have a lifespan of roughly 20 years.

“The International Space Station is a uniquely suited test bed to demonstrate innovative exploration technologies like the BEAM,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters. “Using the station’s resources, we’ll learn how humans can work effectively with this technology in space, as we continue to advance our understanding in all aspects for long-duration spaceflight aboard the orbiting laboratory.”

When the ISS has gathered data from BEAM for two years, the station will then release the module and it will burn up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Bigelow Aerospace has two inflatable prototypes already launched into space – the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Inflatable modules are an attractive option for space habitats because of their cargo efficiency; they are lightweight and conserve fuel. If this mission proves to be successful, inflatable modules might be part of a deep space mission or more.

Have a safe flight, BEAM!

Posted in International Space Station | Leave a comment