The Art of Space Engineering

by Sarah Rogers

The Art of Space Engineering is a podcast which aims to explore the details behind how spacecraft and various payloads come together before launch, and the lessons learned along the way. Episodes feature discussions between faculty, students, and industry professionals on topics including instruments, CubeSats, and various engineering disciplines, to provide a well-rounded overview of what it takes to prepare space systems for  ...   ...  Read more

Podcast episodes

  • Season 1

  • #29 - Operating Satellite Constellations at Planet Labs with Deanna Farago

    #29 - Operating Satellite Constellations at Planet Labs with Deanna Farago

    Episode Summary  This week’s episode features a conversation with Deanna Farago on how Planet Labs manages efficient commissioning and nominal operations for its constellation of over 200 satellites. Planet Labs was founded in 2010 with a goal to collect high resolution imagery of the entire earth every day. Today, Planet’s dataset includes, on average, 1700 images of every place on Earth. This has provided researchers, business, and governments with significant insight into our Earth.   In this episode we dive into how Planet Labs balances commissioning new satellites while continuing to operate existing ones, the tools and automated features enable their constellation to run seamlessly, what aspects of constellation management are not as well known as they should be, and finally what we can learn from reflecting on a decade of operations.  Deanna Farago is the Director of Mission Operations at Planet. Her team is responsible for commissioning and operating the largest Earth-observation constellation of satellites in the world. With an expertise in operations-at-scale, Deanna has written papers and presented at conferences such as Small Satellite, Grace Hopper, and the SpaceOps Conference. Prior to coming to Planet in 2014, Deanna worked as a Simulation Engineer at NASA Ames Research Center performing human-in-the-loop experiments in the Vertical Motion Simulator (VMS). She also worked as the Mission Assurance Manager on the ASTRA project at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory which helped to advance Mars surface instruments using a high-altitude balloon test environment.  Timestamps 0:00 - Episode intro 2:39 - Deanna's background  14:00 - Pelican 1 Tech Demo status 19:20 - Commissioning process for Dove fleets 25:28 - Queueing satellite commissioning 28:32 - Megahealth app - contacting satellites post deployment  32:48 - Aside on TLEs and operational experience 39:44 - Looking back on growth over the years 45:50 - Things to consider about operating constellations 50:28 - Episode Outro & other applications  Links  Planet Labs website:  Commissioning the World’s Largest Satellite Constellation (SmallSat 2017):  Automated fleet commissioning workflows at Planet (SmallSat 2021):  Autonomous Monitoring of a Diverse Ground Station Network (SmallSat 21)

  • #28 - Developing the AOS Mission Architecture with Dr. Scott A. Braun

    #28 - Developing the AOS Mission Architecture with Dr. Scott A. Braun

    Episode Summary NASA’s Atmospheric Observing System (AOS) is a constellation of 4 smallsats which will help characterize aerosol, cloud, convection, and precipitation processes to give insight into extreme weather events as well as climate change. The spacecraft have been designed to compliment each other with their orbits as well as their instrument suite (which includes radar, lidar, limb sensors, polarimeters, and radiometers). AOS was designed to influence the next decade of scientific research in aerosols and cloud processes and enable us to improve our understanding of our Earth. The project is led by NASA Goddard and supported by international partnerships with Japan, Canada, and France, who are developing spacecraft and instruments alike to support this mission. This episode explores the complex study that was undertaken to develop a mission architecture for AOS which could maximize the science return. Over 100 different architectures were developed during the study before the architecture was chosen for AOS. Specifically, we discuss the approach to designing and analyzing different combinations of instruments and spacecraft platforms, and what strategies were used to quantify the impact that each architecture could have on the science objectives. We will also cover How the study trades developed over time, and the challenges associated with an analysis of this scope. Dr. Scott Braun is the Project Scientist for the AOS mission and has been with the program since the study began back in 2018. Dr. Braun is a research meteorologist at NASA Goddard, specializing in hurricanes, and specifically how these form and intensify, including their interaction with the Saharan Air Layer. He has also served as the Principal investigator for NASA’s Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) mission, and the Project Scientist for TROPICS, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), GOES-R, Global Precipitation Measurement mission. Dr. Braun has received numerous awards including Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, the Goddard Earth Science Achievement Award, the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and several other group achievement awards. Timestamps 0:00 - Episode Intro 4:36 - Dr. Braun's background 10:56 - Building the AOS architecture study team 13:48 - Approaching the AOS architecture study per the mission objectives 23:31 - Trading performance vs size 26:48 - Quantifying the scientific value 39:36 - Process for narrowing down options 51:32 - Feedback during the study 56:44 - Evaluating new approaches vs continuity with existing missions, challenges associated 1:03:36 - International partnerships 1:05:02 - One thing that could be done differently 1:07:30 - Favorite problem 1:09:06 - Episode Outro Links AOS Project website: Paper on the AOS architecture study:

  • #27 - Europa Clipper Instrument Science Traceability & Alignment Framework with Dr. Laura Jones-Wilson

    #27 - Europa Clipper Instrument Science Traceability & Alignment Framework with Dr. Laura Jones-Wilson

    This episode features an interview with Dr. Laura Jones-Wilson on the development of a science traceability and alignment framework (STAF) for NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which will launch in late 2024. It covers how the science objectives of the Europa Clipper were organized through the STAF and used to derive the top level requirements for its nine different science instruments. This helped establish a core set of definitions and links between ideas and served as a significant way to frame conversations between engineers and scientists. This conversation discusses how aspects of the spacecraft design were influenced by the instrument suite, and how requirements and constraints were realized. We discuss how what motivated creating a science traceability and alignment framework, how it was developed over time through inputs from engineers and scientists alike, and how it helped become a useful tool for interfacing with many different organizations Dr. Laura Jones-Wilson is a Systems Engineer at JPL whose career has spanned work in both dynamics and control systems as well as systems engineering, where she has been since 2012. While working on the Europa Clipper mission, she served as both the Instrument Systems Engineer for the Ultraviolet Spectrograph (UVS) instrument as well as the lead for the payload verification & validation activities. In addition to the Europa Clipper mission, Laura has held roles as the project systems engineer for STABLE (a balloon-borne sub-arcsecond pointing demonstration), the Project Investigator for a Mars Sample Capture technology development effort, and is now supporting the Sample Recovery Helicopter project. She is also co-manager of the SmallSat Dynamics Testbed at JPL which is used for testing SmallSat attitude control hardware. Papers & Resources: Project Science Traceability and Alignment Framework (PSTAF) paper: Measurement Science Traceability & Alignment Framework (MSTAF) paper: Project website: Timestamps 0:00 - Episode overview 5:50 - Laura's background 15:05 - Europa Clipper background 20:18 - REASON (radar instrument) integration challenges 25:00 - Managing operational constraints for different instruments (processes & tools) 28:00 - Operations design & management tools & integration with STAF matrices 32:30 - Brief overview of PSTAF/MSTAF 36:20 - Integrating PSTAF/MSTAF with operational tools 49:30 - how PSTAF helps understand and manage risk related to instrument performance 55:12 - using PSTAF to communicate with science teams 58:50 - motivation for developing PSTAF 1:03:00 - Balancing needs from multiple instrument teams 1:12:48 - Mapping science needs to engineering constraints 1:19:58 - Development process for PSTAF/MSTAF (collecting feedback & philosophy) 1:31:00 - Ties to MBSE 1:35:48 - Differences between Europa Clipper and Cassini/other large NASA-led missions 1:41:44 - How Laura got involved in the Europa Clipper project 1:46:45 - Random question! 1:50:44 - Building on PSTAF 1:52:30 - Wrap-up 1:55:10 Episode outro

  • #26 - Flight Dynamics of the Dragonfly Rotorcraft with Dr. Jack Langelaan

    #26 - Flight Dynamics of the Dragonfly Rotorcraft with Dr. Jack Langelaan

    Scheduled to launch in 2027, Dragonfly will be the first spacecraft to fly on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Data from Cassini-Huygens revealed evidence of a subsurface ocean, made of water and ammonia, as well as stable bodies of liquid hydrocarbons on the surface. This makes Titan the only other body in our solar system with a stable liquid source on its surface. These features make it an incredibly valuable place to study in humanity’s search for life beyond Earth. As Dragonfly is also a rotorcraft and must operate autonomously on Titan, there are many interesting engineering challenges that come with this mission as aerodynamics and flight controls are thrown into the mix, along with everything else we must account for in a spacecraft. In this episode, I chat with Dr. Jack Lagelaan, who is part of a team of engineers from Penn State University leading the design of Dragonfly’s aerodynamics, flight controls, and aeromechanics. Dr. Langelaan is an Assistant Professor at Penn State, whose research focuses on flight planning and control algorithms for autonomous systems. Timestamps 0:00 - Episode Intro 5:52 - Dr. Langelaan’s background in aerospace 13:59 - How the collaboration with APL on Dragonfly came about 15:55- Penn State’s research on Dragonfly 18:51 - Pre flight checks for autonomous, safe flight on Titan 31:29 - aeromechanical challenges for flight on Titan (handling velocity differences in advancing/retreating side, vibration effects due to high velocity, system design considerations for the rotorcraft due to rotor vibration) 40:28 - interesting aerodynamic interactions / effects during flight on Titan 45:58 - Designing Dragonfly to be aerodynamic (optimization studies, accounting for flight performance and systems engineering) 49:30 - Collaborating on the body design with APL, how the current structure came about 51:56 - Testing plans & simulations to prepare for flight on Titan (testing in environmental conditions & with scale models to validate controls) 57:56 - Favorite memory working on Dragonfly 1:01:34 - Episode Outro Links for more information on Dragonfly Dragonfly is led by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL), and collaborated on by engineers, scientists, and managers from a variety of institutions. For more information on the mission, see the links below. Website: Mission Overview: Energetics of rotary-wing exploration of Titan GNC for Exploration of Titan with the Dragonfly Rotorcraft Lander

  • #25 - A Conversation on Running Student-Led Projects, with Adi Khuller, Omar Alavi & Joe Mayer

    #25 - A Conversation on Running Student-Led Projects, with Adi Khuller, Omar Alavi & Joe Mayer

    This episode features a roundtable discussion between myself, Adi Khuller, Joe Mayer, and Omar Alavi about life as engineering students and how we balanced working on projects and coursework at ASU. This diverts from my usual content on space mission engineering, but it is a topic I feel is important to focus on, as this is something that many students struggle with on some level. Given that, if you’re a student, I hope you enjoy this conversation and that it helps you or gives you comfort in some way. Timestamps: 0:00 - Episode Intro 3:18 - How did you get involved in student orgs 21:47 - Nerves joining projects as a freshman and not having taken many courses 35:18 - Importance of classes & GPA vs projects 39:29 - Foresight & prioritization 58:47 - The importance of sleep 1:03:36 - How the PPT project schedule was made around school schedules 1:13:43 - Asking for help & finding resources 1:17:39 - Lessons learned on meeting structures 1:31:39 - Ending comments 1:34:50 - Episode outro The ONE Thing by Gary Keller: