Steve Thibault – JHU Mat Sci & Engineering PhD Candidate and Systems Engineer for Parker Solar Probe


Where does material science play a role? everywhere everywhere everywhere. My name is Steve Thibault and I’m the chief engineer at the Space
Exploration Sector here at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. So as a chief engineer I have engineering oversight of all the
developments and operations that are occurring here to ensure that we have
high quality missions that exceed our sponsors expectations, that we solve the
technical challenges that we have to develop those spacecraft and instruments, as well as to ultimately deliver hardware and systems and software that
are working in space. So spacecraft integration test is where actually all
the pieces come together and they get assembled. So we’re integrating
the propulsion system, the structure, the thermal protection system, the avionics
the computers, the radios, the instruments the solar arrays, the batteries. We’re all
putting that into what looks like the spacecraft, running that through a series
of tests. So I had a role in guiding the organization to get through the
challenges of that integration test such that we knew that we had a spacecraft
that would succeed in orbit. as you can imagine when you look at something from
afar you can only learn so much, you can only see so much. And so standing here on
Earth, we have all sorts of great sensors that study the Sun. We have actually
spacecraft in orbit that are at the same distance from the Sun that the Earth is
and they rotate around the Sun and they look at the Sun and so they provided
us an edge science. But nobody has gone close enough to understand the coronal
region which is where this these activities occur and take place. And so
there’s fundamental science that Solar Probe spacecraft is after, both in an
electromagnetic domain but also in the visual. There’s a camera on board that
actually looks for streaks and actually dust and particles coming off the Sun there’s high energy and low energy particle instruments all to aid
us in understanding the physical model behind how the Sun behaves targeted
towards how does it impact the Earth. So it’s it’s essentially important science
and as an engineer it’s pretty exciting to be able to work on a spacecraft that
actually enables Discovery Science. so I have a very vivid memory of my mother
collecting me and my two brothers to sit in front of the television when Neil
Armstrong landed on the Moon. So I can remember that very vividly seeing this
individual and the spacesuit take these steps down the ladder and
actually then touch on something that we could go walk outside and go look and
see the moon. And that was very important in my thought process through my
education. I always resonated with math and sciences but I like looking out into
space looking to stars. You know with a full moon at night I grab my, you know,
amateur telescope when I put it on the sidewalk and I look to just you know
keep my excitement alive about being able to see things I’m able to do things
with. In fact, coming to APL one of the first projects I worked on most was
called mini RF – miniaturized radar -and it was on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
which had one principal objective which was to map the landing sites of where
the Apollo astronauts landed which was pretty cool. But the instrument that we
developed was to look for ice in the poles and the deep, permanently
shadowed craters and so this particular instrument actually helped discover ice
on the moon which is just super exciting. So the missions and the
contributions you’re able to make in the space industry whether it be on the
commercial, terrestrial side or exploration side are just really
exciting

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