Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Dartmouth Engineer Oversees First NASA Satellite Launch for SpaceX

By Anna Fiorentino
February 2016 • CoolStuff

Jason-3 Satellite Launch Prep
Falcon 9 rocket for Jason-3 launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of SpaceX)

In what could be a game changer for the aerospace industry, a recent attempt by SpaceX to both launch and safely land a rocket was overseen by Dartmouth engineer Julianna Scheiman Th'11. Scheiman and the SpaceX team conducted the launch of an unmanned rocket to successfully deploy "Jason-3," completing the first dedicated NASA satellite launch for SpaceX — owned by Paypal and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk.

The mission fell just short of its second goal to land the rocket safely for reuse instead of deconstructing in space. Due to the malfunction of one of the landing legs, the rocket tipped over and blew up seconds after touching down on a drone ship platform in the Pacific Ocean.

"SpaceX's ultimate goal is to get to Mars and the only way to do that is to make the cost of launch cheaper," says Scheiman, who is now responsible for two other SpaceX missions. Reuse has the potential to save millions of dollars per launch.

"These landings are experimental. The mission is successful if you get the satellite safely into orbit," says Scheiman who interned for NASA while attending Thayer. "We’re trying to lower the cost of launch so it's accessible to everyone, including NASA, saving taxpayers' money.

Falcon 9 rocket landing
Falcon 9 rocket approaches landing droneship in Pacific. (Photo courtesy of SpaceX)

"I interned at NASA because I have always been fascinated by space, yet ever since the Apollo era there has been a lack of interest in space exploration," says Scheiman, who in less than two short years at SpaceX was promoted from Mission Integrator to Mission Manager.

SpaceX's rocket delivered the Jason-3 weather satellite to low-Earth orbit for NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. Jason-3 is the newest satellite in a series designed to maintain long-term observations of global sea surface height. The information helps forecasters predict hurricanes and severe weather before it arrives, and allows scientists to track global sea level rise over time.

For SpaceX, which also employs Dartmouth engineer Paul Seebacher Th‘11, each mission marks a step toward the ultimate goal of reducing the cost of launch and putting Mars within reach. Last December, SpaceX had its first success safely landing a rocket at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

SpaceX is not the only company working toward this goal. Blue Origin — a company that employs Thayer graduates Craig McConnell '11, Th'12, MEM'13 (son of Board of Overseers member Christopher McConnell D'75) and Sam Andrew '11, Th'12 — led by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, safely landed a smaller rocket last year prior to SpaceX. And last month Blue Origin launched and landed that same rocket after a short trip into suborbital space, becoming the first to reuse a rocket.

Tags: alumni, career, innovation

comments powered by Disqus