I’ve moved into a new role on the Europa Clipper project, and if you’re not an engineer at NASA, it might sound like a bunch of jargon. What exactly does the “Flight System Launch and Deployments Lead” do?
First off, I’ve been on the Flight Systems Engineering Team for the past year. The Flight System is a term we use at JPL for the spacecraft (all subsystems together) plus the payload (the science instruments). Our team of ~15 people ensures that the high-level design of the spacecraft works, all subsystems work when related to each other, and that the spacecraft supports instrument needs. We basically make sure that all engineering topics work when put together as a cohesive system.
Our team has identified three key phases for the Flight System in the mission: Launch and Deployments, Jupiter Orbit Insertion, and Flybys (usually of Europa). These are all critical activities that the spacecraft has to complete to have a successful mission.
The Launch and Deployments Phase is the first phase in the mission and involves the spacecraft performing several activities to “ready itself” for the rest of the mission. The phase more or less starts when the Launch Vehicle (carrying Europa Clipper) lifts off from Earth and ends when the spacecraft is in a sound flight condition to make its trip to Jupiter.
The key activities that I’m working on include: establish communications once separated from the Launch Vehicle, ensure that the spacecraft is in a thermally safe orientation, vent and prime the propulsion system prior to its first use, deploy the solar arrays, charge the batteries as needed, and deploy other instrument related equipment, such as the magnetometer boom. The majority of these activities have to be completed autonomously, meaning that we have to design software to carry out all of these activities without ground operations.
It’s a lot of work, but it sure is fun! Here’s to getting a spacecraft safely to Jupiter, cheers!