This profile continues a series to introduce the people behind the development of Orion. The first space-bound Orion vehicle recently arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida from Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. At Kennedy, the spacecraft will be outfitted for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), planned for 2014. EFT-1 is an essential step that will allow engineers to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities to prepare Orion for deep space exploration.
Meet Jeremy Rae, Manager in the MPCV Entry GNC Team Here at JSC
Rae was born and raised in rural Ohio where “you can see the Milky Way on a clear night.”
“At night, my dad would point out constellations to me and my brother,” Rae said. “That had a huge influence on me. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer and work for NASA. I graduated with a B.S. from The Ohio State University, M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, all in Aerospace Engineering.”
Importance of the flight test
Rae feels the Orion program needs to move forward, and more flight tests means a better design in the future as a result. During Orion Entry Flight Test 1, the vehicle will enter the atmosphere at speeds faster than would be encountered from a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) return, Rae explained.
“It won’t be nearly as fast as a return from the Moon or an asteroid, but it will put the vehicle in a stressing aerothermal environment that will help validate the aerothermal models and the Thermal Protection System (TPS),” Rae said. “It will test every critical system on the vehicle, from Guidance Navigation and Control (GNC) to the parachutes. More than that, this will be the first time that many of the Orion engineers will fly a real vehicle in space. It’s one thing to endlessly review numbers on a PowerPoint slide, but quite another to fly hardware.”
The work environment
For Orion GNC, Rae’s team has a “tightly collaborative structure” with the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin. Civil servants work hand-in-hand with the contractors to design, verify and validate the GNC system. Rae is the Orion Entry GNC Performance Subsystem Manager on the Orion Entry GNC MODE Team. He leads a team that deals with anything related to the overall performance of the entry GNC system and Orion: guidance gains, landing site selection, entry corridor definition, reference trajectory definition, debris disposal, sensitivities to aerodynamic dispersions, aerothermal environments, dynamic loads and much more.
“I coordinate with various subsystems on a lower level to solve issues before they become major problems for the program managers,” Rae said. “Much of the design work for EFT1 is finished, so now we are transitioning to the verification and validation of the flight software and entry performance requirements.”
Rae finds two particular things about his job amazing. One is that the Orion vehicle will carry humans into space beyond LEO, and the “knowledge gained from those missions and the technology developed to make it all happen will make humanity better.” The other thing is the people with whom he works. He said he has met and works with a dedicated, intelligent team that inspires him to be a better engineer, and it continues to be a privilege to work with them all.
“The biggest contribution I have made to EFT1 is my analysis to aid in selection of the Entry Interface state that will be targeted by Orion,” Rae said. “This is the most significant trajectory parameter affecting the entry performance. It was selected to ensure that all the aerothermal test objectives will be met while still meeting the GNC and other vehicle performance requirements.”
Rae recalls sitting in a meeting and pointing at a specific point on a chart of the entry corridor summarizing many months of analysis by him and his team. The GNC lead looked at him and said: “How does it feel to design the EFT1 entry trajectory?” Rae said that was a definite “wow” moment for him.
Another interesting part of his job – he runs a lot of simulations of the entry trajectory.
“My goal is to stress the simulated vehicle until it breaks,” Rae said. “I’ve burned Orion up, skipped it off the atmosphere, caused the navigation system to malfunction so that the chutes never deploy. I once even skipped Orion around the world and landed in Antarctica … that was a surprise. I’ve lost the mission and the crew thousands of times. I do it so that it never happens in reality. By understanding what can break Orion, I have helped to make it more robust.”
Best memory of NASA
“One memory that sticks out was from my first co-op tour,” Rae said. “This was before the Saturn V was enclosed. Every morning and evening when I was walking to or from my car, I would look over at the Saturn V in awe. It is a reminder that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Rae hopes to see NASA focusing on space beyond LEO in the future as well as the moon, Mars, asteroids and even further out.
Outside the gates
Since Rae was little, he’s always wanted to work at NASA designing space ships. Aside from his passion for all things NASA, he plays the guitar and trumpet in a band called Death Carpet Trio with two other NASA engineers. He also enjoys fitness and nutrition.
"There are lots of teachers, friends, and family that have helped me along the way. My parents really influenced my love of space. I’ve mentioned that my Dad used to take me and my brother star gazing. Well, when I was in elementary school, my Mom would sometimes keep me and my brother home from school so we could watch the Space Shuttle launch on television. That has always stuck with me."