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Achieving a Mission Tempo

Sandra Jones |
June 20, 2019

For this JSC team, the contributions are critical ... 

One of NASA Johnson Space Center’s key initiatives is to Achieve a Mission Tempo. But what exactly does this look like? Today, we are taking a closer look at and highlighting one team at Johnson whose innovative, timely and creative contributions have played a major role in enabling us to reach our goal of returning to the Moon by 2024, and who are doing their part to achieve a mission tempo.

The Ascent Abort-2 Test (AA-2) is rapidly approaching, scheduled to launch on July 2, 2019. This test will ensure that a crew can quickly and safely be pulled away from the rocket should an emergency occur during launch. AA-2, when complete, will certify that we have the capability in place to keep astronauts safe when humans launch aboard the Orion spacecraft.

From this test we will learn much about the abort system and what, if any, adjustments need to be made before Orion launches aboard the Space Launch System . Because this test is designed to focus on Orion’s launch-abort capabilities, the crew module used for AA-2 will not deploy parachutes after the abort system is jettisoned. However, this presents a unique challenge for the AA-2 team. Just how do we go about obtaining the important test data?


Enter the Ejectable Data Recorder (EDR) team.

The EDR team had a unique and challenging task in front of them: not only did they need to gather and record data from the AA-2 test, but they also had to ensure that data could be retrieved and analyzed after the test’s conclusion. The solution? Data recorders that can survive the ride, be ejected from the crew module during the test, and are able to float in the Atlantic Ocean until recovered for analysis. But, it was no easy feat to develop, design, and engineer these EDRs. It required brainstorming, working through countless tests and redesigns, and ingenious ideas. However, the team rose to the challenge by implementing innovative solutions, some of which involved common low-cost everyday items such as flash drives (to record test data), beacons based on technology that hikers and boaters use (to locate the data recorders), Raspberry Pi computers (to program and code the software for the EDRs) and 3D printing (to create the scaffolding and casing around the EDR electronics). Additionally, the team leveraged pre-existing technology, when applicable, by using military hardware to avoid reinventing the wheel. 

Rendering of the Ejectable Data Recorders being jettisoned from the Orion crew capsule during the AA-2 test flight. Image Credit: NASA

By following a developmental philosophy of rapid prototyping, testing, failing and learning as quickly possible, this team’s work resulted in a data recorder that meets all the criteria for a successful test. This philosophy enabled the team to accomplish the difficult task in front of them and significantly reduced the workload, cost and schedule.

We sat down with some of the team members to learn a bit more about what the successful development of the EDRs meant to them and to hear about their favorite moments while working on the project. Here’s what they had to say.

“There is a personal pride, excitement, a sense of accomplishment and teamwork when I see the AA-2 Module on the launch pad, because of what it represents—another major milestone achieved in the nation’s goal of returning to the moon by 2024.

 To achieve that milestone, engineers and technicians learned to work together and formed a team. A strong inclusive and cohesive team. Communicating, sharing ideas and experiences, learning what worked and did not work, working hard and devoting time needed to find solutions, resolve issues and keep the project moving forward, knowing that if one member failed, the team failed. A powerful incentive to succeed.

I look at the vehicle and realize there exist tangible evidence of my contribution to the project. I am very proud to have had an opportunity to work on the AA-2 project. Our team is an awesome team.” -Eva Crawford

“We had a lot of moments when you expect everything to check out, because it had been checking out, yet an issue manifests itself overnight and you are brought back to the drawing board to think up a quick solution in the last minute, which we did. My most memorable moment was when we pulled the final version of the test payload from the roof after conducting an overnight beacon test to verify the final board design. It turned out that the test passed and exceeded the calculated expectations.” - Paolina Povolotskaya

“I would say the EDR team/project represents perseverance in the face of uncertainty. Everything about this subsystem was new, and there was no clear line of sight to the finish line. But working as a team, we got it done.” - Michael Grace 

It is extremely rare to get the opportunity to perform in-line work on an entire spacecraft, as well as work on it through the entire lifecycle. The AA-2 project allowed the engineers to perform hands-on work, developing the requirements and design, performing the integration and test, and operating the vehicle through the mission. For EDR, we were able to design and build our subsystem and then integrate it into the enitrespacecraft. Additionally, since EDR is the only recoverable asset from the spacecraft, we were also required to integrate, test and operate with other operational systems, including helicopters and recovery boats. For me specifically, I was able to perform box-level thermal and vibration testing, integrated avionics testing in the AA-2 high-fidelity hardware-in-the-loop test facility, install EDR equipment onto the spacecraft, and perform spacecraft testing, integrated spacecraft/LAS testing and integrated spacecraft/LAS/booster testing. And when AA-2 flies, I will be performing the EDR flight operations and EDR recovery operations on console. It doesn’t get any better than that!” - David Petri 

“What stood out to me about this project was the team’s ability to face obstacles and overcome them through innovative and creative solutions, and also face problems with good humor and without losing motivation.” - Michael Burlone 

“It has been an honor to be part of a team of people with such remarkable skill and dedication. I am especially pleased for the opportunity this team has had to demonstrate the capability of JSC’s in-house engineering organization to develop a new system with a nimbleness and efficiency, as well as a responsiveness to customer needs that cannot reasonably be expected via outsource procurements. It was also very gratifying to show how much more could be achieved with limited resources by creative use of low-cost non-traditional components, fabrication and testing methods compared to what is conventionally assumed. The philosophy of having a small, dedicated team with responsibilities shared across disciplines and the freedom to build and test our way through a continuous series of prototypes from the very beginning set an example for rapid development that we all hope can be an example for others.” - Jeff Hagen


“Having had a chance to be part of the AA-2 EDR and Developmental Flight Instrumentation (DFI) projects has been an incredibly enriching opportunity, both from an engineering and personal perspective. Being involved with the EDR Radio Frequency antenna testing and selection, as well as the design and development of the EDR beacon tracking software, allowed me to work closely with all of the team, propose and discuss potential new tools, and actively work toward making these new ideas a reality.” - Lucas Moxey  

“This project, which will probably occur once in a career, has afforded the opportunity to work with a small team comprised of very talented individuals, to be very hands-on, to solve complicated engineering challenges in short order, to perform a recorder drop test using a NASA Huey II over the Atlantic Ocean, and to provide vehicle support at Spaceport Florida Launch Complex 46. A very proud moment on this project was the successful performance of all three AA-2 EDR breakout boxes upon first power-up and through qualification testing, thanks—in large part—to the skill of the technicians that supported our project.” - Lance Oelke

“My favorite part of working EDR was being part of a great team who did whatever it took to solve the problems and get the system running. I’ve never worked with such a responsive and hardworking group, and it has made even the most frustrating design and integration days bearable, knowing that everyone was 100 precent in.” - Joshua Wilkins

From all of us at Johnson—we wish the EDR team and the entire AA-2 team success during their upcoming test flight! We are excited to follow in your example and implement similar innovative ideas to continue achieving mission tempo centerwide.

Want to support and cheer on the AA-2 team during launch? Be sure to check Roundup Today for launch-day viewing events, banner-signing opportunities and more!

Current EDR team members, from left: Paolina Povolotskaya, David Petri, Lance Oelke, Josh Wilkins, Michael Grace, Michael Burlone and Jeff Hagen. Not pictured: Kristina Rojdev, Lucas Moxey, Rosa Obregon, Eric Vineyard and Andrzej Jackowski. Image Credit: NASA
Current EDR team members, from left: Paolina Povolotskaya, David Petri, Lance Oelke, Josh Wilkins, Michael Grace, Michael Burlone and Jeff Hagen. Not pictured: Kristina Rojdev, Lucas Moxey, Rosa Obregon, Eric Vineyard and Andrzej Jackowski. Image Credit: NASA
AA-2 logo
Ascent Abort-2 logo.
A closer look at an EDR that was developed, designed and tested by the team at Johnson. Image Credit: NASA
A closer look at an EDR that was developed, designed and tested by the team at Johnson. Image Credit: NASA