DEVOTE Puts Mission Lifecycle into Overdrive
For NASA, cultivating the next generation of science leaders doesn't just happen in the classroom where students have their heads buried in books. For a group of young NASA scientists, the inspiration came through a hands-on project that not only produced valuable science, but also emphasized the development of leadership skills.
The DEVOTE project (D
evelopment and E
valuation of satellite V
ools by E
xperimenters), put 16 scientists and engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center through a full mission lifecycle -- a project that can take years to finish -- in a rapid 15 months.
"Langley doesn't always have as many long term or full lifecycle missions as some other centers, so it's more difficult to see a mission from start to finish here," said Jennifer Keyes, the DEVOTE systems engineer.
DEVOTE is part of the NASA Hands-On Project Experience (HOPE) program. As an airborne science project, the mission focused training on early-career and career-transitional employees – those moving to a new area of expertise or a higher level of leadership.
Mission lifecycle training opportunities for principal investigators, program managers and system engineers are becoming severely limited, increasing the risk for future NASA missions that require an experienced workforce, according to a National Research Council report called "Revitalizing NASA's Suborbital Program: Advancing Science, Driving Innovation and Developing Workforce."
DEVOTE addresses this risk by exposing employees early.
Mentoring is Key
"This mentorship helped the up-and-coming scientists and engineers learn some of the words and concepts they'll hear during a larger mission so when they move on to other projects, they'll understand the context," said Keyes.
Participants each had a mentor in their field of expertise, often shadowing the mentors in their daily responsibilities on other projects. DEVOTE scientists and engineers also participated in formal and informal training activities, such as team and individual assessments, workshops and classes.
"DEVOTE participants were given high-impact, on-the-job training to develop the project leadership and technical skills required to complete a NASA mission," said Johnathan Hair, the principal investigator for DEVOTE.
After 15 months, every aspect of the mission processes was completed, from proposal and project management to executing flights, data analysis and data archival. However, providing mission exposure wasn't DEVOTE's only priority.
"The mentoring portion of DEVOTE is important, but we weren't going to just launch sand; this produced incredibly enabling science for the future," said Keyes.
The DEVOTE team flew a collection of instruments that were never used together on an aircraft, along with a new in-situ sensor developed under the project. The instruments were put on Langley's B200 aircraft, which flew 50 to 15,000 feet for more than 35 hours to collect atmospheric data.
On a second aircraft, Langley's UC-12, DEVOTE scientists flew at 28,000 feet for almost 34 hours carrying instruments that can take measurements from far away. The instruments included a lidar and a polarimeter, which measure different properties of particles in the atmosphere.
"We really wanted to demonstrate the capability of this instrument suite and evaluate the remote sensing measurements and the retrievals made from these measurements," said Hair.
Over the course of the mission, the DEVOTE team executed 11 coordinated flights with the two instrument-outfitted airplanes, including local flights from Langley; flights from Jackson, Miss. to sample agriculture biomass burning; and flights from Groton, Conn., to sample the urban pollution near Boston.
Hair said the flight paths were strategically mapped so the aircraft flew over ground-based measurement sites and under space-based satellite paths, in hopes of evaluating and improving the next generation of Earth-observing satellites.
For example, DEVOTE helped scientists evaluate data generated from the current satellite mission CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation), which measures the vertical properties of clouds and particles in the atmosphere.
The flights will also help scientists develop ACE (Aerosol-Cloud-Ecosystem), a mission that will examine the interaction between clouds and particles in the atmosphere more comprehensively than any other satellite program.
On ACE, scientists will use a similar combination of instruments as for DEVOTE, so demonstrating their compatibility through this year's flights helps scientists plan and prepare for ACE.
NASA Langley Research Center