In Their Own Words
January 29, 2008 18:54:39
Anatomy Of A Space Flight
By Robert Gass

 

Rob Fulton - Orbital's SORCE Project Manager. In the background, the Pegasus/SORCE spacecraft is seen attached to the bottom of their L-1011 mother ship. A gray thermal blanket surrounds the spacecraft to protect is as it is processed for launch Photo Credit: Rob Fulton

Interspace: Let's begin with a little background. Why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Rob: I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia and I graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Engineering Mechanics. In February of 1984, I left Virginia to work at Lockheed Missiles and Space in Sunnyvale, CA. I spent close to 8 years there and in August of 1991 I came back to Virginia to work for Orbital and I have been there ever since. 

Interspace: What projects did you work on at Lockheed?

Rob: I worked on a variety of things - some of them in the DOD area. Among the projects that people would recognize was one that is about to launch called Gravity Probe B.

Interspace: I'm very familiar with it.

Rob: I worked on it in the early days of the program, during the instrument development. My background in school and my first work at Lockheed was in the structural analysis area, so I was a mechanicaland finite element analyst in stress and dynamics. Another project I worked on that people may be familiar with is MILSTAR.

Interspace: I'm very familiar with that one as well.

Rob: But again this was in a mechanical analysis type position - not like what I am doing now. 

Interspace: What directed you towards this field? Did you always have an interest in engineering or was it space travel that interested you?

Rob: I think that it was a combination of my own interests as well as the bloodlines in my family. My father, Robert E. Fulton, worked at NASA Langley for 25 years and now teaches Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. My Uncle was a test pilot in the Air Force back in Chuck Yeager's day as well as later for NASA Dryden. Plus, I have always been interested in aerospace in general.

Interspace: What was your Uncle’s name?

The Space Shuttle Enterprise is seen here separating from it's Boeing 747 mother ship. Rob's Uncle, Fitz Fulton flew the 747 during some of the early Shuttle drop tests. His father worked at NASA Langley for over 25 years. As Rob points out "aerospace is in my blood" Photo Credit: NASA

Rob: Fitzhugh Fulton. He was involved in the early un-powered flight tests of the Shuttle while flying  on or gliding from the 747 carrier aircraft. My uncle also served as a color commentator for NBC on some early Shuttle landings. He has also flown the Blackbird , the B-52, the XB-70, and was a consultant, early on, to Orbital in the development of the Pegasus air launched rocket, which was originally launched from a B-52. He also did some of the early tests when they were remotely piloting and crashing I think, a Boeing 727 or 737, to test some flame retardant fuels - which seems an oxymoron…  Laughter

My father worked at NASA Langley in the structural mechanics area as well and supported programs like Apollo back in that time frame. In fact my brother, although he's not in the industry any longer, had his first job out of college at Hughes in El Segundo. So I would say that aerospace kind of ran in my family bloodlines.

Interspace: So when you ended up over at Orbital what were you doing? What made you leave Lockheed?

Rob:  I left Lockheed for a couple of reasons but the primary reason was for my kids - I wanted them to be living closer to their grandparents on the East Coast. The other was for the opportunity in career growth that I felt a smaller company, like Orbital, could offer. The first program I worked on when I started at Orbital was TOS, the Transfer Orbit Stage. This was in the post-Challenger days and the program was going through some changes to accommodate Shuttle Safety. I ended up working on that program for about two years, to support two launches that we did with that vehicle - both were out of KSC. One was for the Mars Observer launch on a Titan III rocket and the other for the Shuttle launch of the ACTS communications satellite. So when I left Lockheed to come to Orbital, it was to take a job that offered me a greater role in terms of the responsibility and the scope of the work that I was required to do.

Interspace: Do you find that the atmosphere at Orbital is any different that the atmosphere was at Lockheed?

OrbView-1 was one of the first projects Rob worked on when he came to OrbitalPhoto Credit: Orbital

Rob: Well my data from Lockheed of course is back in the 1980’s, during the height of the Reagan years with “Star Wars” and the big defense buildup in aerospace. Since I left Lockheed over 11 years ago, it would be hard for me to compare what Lockheed is like now to what Orbital is like, but I would say that when I left Lockheed to come to Orbital, it was a smaller company - I was employee #300, and what impressed me about Orbital was that in a smaller company you can have more breadth and depth of responsibility, a greater role in a program that you’re supporting, and I think it offered me increased opportunities for advancement.  

Interspace: Orbital had some intriguing concepts back then in terms of the development of these small  launch vehicles and such. Were you involved in any of that?

Rob: Not terribly. After the TOS program I did do some work on the Taurus launch vehicle for it's first launch but that was really a rather minor, short-term role. I've generally been a spacecraft guy except for the TOS program both at Lockheed and Orbital. The next program I worked on at Orbital was called MicroLab, or what is now called OrbView-1, which is an ORBCOMM spacecraft derivative, adapted to a science mission for NASA Marshall. We integrated an existing instrument, called the Optical Transient Detector, on that spacecraft bus and modified the ORBCOMM design to accommodate this instrument. The instrument was designed by the principal investigator at NASA Marshall and Orbital flew this science instrument, which is basically a lightning sensor that maps lightning strikes around the globe. It was the precursor to the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) that is now on the TRMM spacecraft.

Interspace: How did you end up on SORCE?

Rob: After MicroLab I worked on a program called T-1 which was a broadband communications demonstrator satellite for Teledesic back in their early days when they were trying to get a spacecraft up to demonstrate their mission concept.For both those missions, my role was primarily as the Integration & Test Manager. After the T-1 launch, I began managing studies and proposals aimed at developing mission concepts and attracting new business. That was where I developed my Project Management skills. One of the projects I led was Orbital’s teaming arrangement with the University of Colorado/LASP for a mission called TSIM, the Total Solar Irradiance Mission, which was in response to a NASA AO in late 1997, I believe. This mission would have integrated two of the current SORCE instruments, the SIM and TIM, on a MicroStar bus. MicroStar is the ORBCOMM-derived small round spacecraft bus that is one of Orbital’s current LEO satellite product lines. So I successfully led that proposal and our team with LASP was selected to participate against another Principal Investigator and spacecraft contractor team in a competitive Phase B study.Orbital and LASP completed the preliminary design during this competitive Phase B program and were selected to execute the TSIM mission. In early 1999. At the same time as the TSIM Phase B, during much of 1998, the University of Colorado-LASP was also running a spacecraft bus competition between us and some others for what was then called the SAVE mission, which is the Solar Atmospheric Variability Explorer. SAVE was to fly SORCE’s current SOLSTICE instruments on a separate spacecraft and continue the science data record that SOLSTICE is doing on UARS. SAVE also was to fly the current SIM instrument. So it gets somewhat convoluted, but the bottom line is that we were selected by LASP to build the SAVE spacecraft and at the same time, the team of Orbital and LASP was selected by NASA to move forward with the TSIM mission. Because they had a common instrument, the SIM, in early 1999 we completed some mission design studies and came up with a concept to produce the current SORCE spacecraft, which is a combination of these two previous missions. So because I led the proposal team for the SAVE program and was intended as the SAVE Program Manager, and I was also the program manager during the Phase B for TSIM, when those two missions were combined it led to my current position as the SORCE Program Manager

An artists rendition of SORCE in orbit. SORCE seeks to answer fundamental questions about how our Sun interacts with the Earth. It will create a long term data record of the Sun's total irradiance which scientists can then apply to observed climactic changes to help them better understand the root cause of those changes. Photo Credit: NASA

Interspace: And in the process you gave us a very interesting look at the genesis of this mission  -  Thank you. Now what exactly is SORCE's purpose, what is it trying to do up there?

Rob: SORCE is trying to answer the fundamental question of how the Sun interacts with and affects the climate of the Earth. Its goal, primarily, is to measure and create a long-term data record in the change of the Sun's variability and radiation and relate those changes to the Earth’s climate. The Sun is, of course, the major input in terms of energy to the Earth and affects everything from climate to weather patterns and those sorts of global phenomena. The science is actually mandated Congressionally. There are 24 Congressionally mandated data records that are required to be maintained to advance our understanding of the entire Earth System and they can be best measured from space.SORCE provides two of those key data points: Total Solar Irradiance and Ultraviolet Spectral Irradiance. The long-term record can ultimately be used to influence policy as the lawmakers review the data that the scientists gather from a mission like ours. SORCE will help scientists and policymakers understand the interaction between the Sun and the climate in terms of global warming, ozone depletion, Amazon deforestation, those sorts of global issues, as well as simpler things like why the weather patterns change causing it to be locally hotter or cooler than it was in years past. The other fundamental goal of SORCE is not only to maintain this data record, but to overlap the data with current and future missions that provide the same measurement. The ACRIM spacecraft is doing similar solar irradiance measurement and is still flying, and of course the SOLSTICE instruments are still operating on the UARS spacecraft. So the goal of SORCE is to be able to cross correlate and continue those data records.

Interspace: With this in mind, exactly how will SORCE accomplish these goals?  

Rob: I would have to say that the instrument scientists would be able to answer that question far better than I could. But basically, SORCE will provide this data record by measuring the change in the sun’s irradiance with better accuracy than has been accomplished in the past.

Interspace: How about if I re-phrase it. What equipment does SORCE possess that will enable it to do what you said?

Rob: SORCE has a variety of detectors in the instruments that measure both the total irradiance from the Sun as well as the change, or the variability, of the irradiance from the Sun. That data then is processed to form the long-term data record which scientists can then evaluate and compare to environmental changes here on Earth. SORCE improves upon the previous accuracy of these measurements and performs measurements across a much wider range of the spectrum covering wavelengths from the ultraviolet all the way to the near infrared.

Interspace: SORCE uses four instruments to accomplish this?

Rob: There are four experiments: the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM), the Spectral Irradiance Monitor (SIM), the Solar-Stellar Irradiance Comparison Experiment (SOLSTICE), and the XUV Photometer System (XPS). The XPS is actually a re-flight of an instrument that is currently being flown on the TIMED-SEE spacecraft.

Rob carefully examines the SORCE spacecraft which is seen here inside the clean room and already installed on it's Pegasus booster. All four of SORCE's scientific instruments can be seen on the octagon shaped face of the spacecraft. At the top left is SIM and next to that is SOLSTICE A. Below SIM and slightly to the left is SOLSTICE B. At the bottom left is XPS and at the bottom right is TIM. Photo Credit: Robert Gass

Interspace: The SORCE Spacecraft itself is based on an Orbital product known as LEOStar-2?

Rob: Correct.

Interspace: Can you describe LEOstar-2?

Rob: LEOStar-2 is intended to be a highly capable, agile, and flexible spacecraft in terms of payload accommodations. It can perform science and remote sensing missions in low Earth orbit. It's intended to be a full Pegasus-class payload or constitute a majority of a Taurus launch payload. It’s one of three product lines that we primarily focus on. The MicroStar, which are partial Pegasus class payloads, the LEOStar-2, which is generally a full Pegasus or Taurus class payload, and then there are our small GEO spacecraft, what we call the STARBUS, that are in the entirely different arena of geosynchronous telecommunications missions. The LEOStar-2 product line is derived from a number of past programs and developments that we have had along the way in the Orbital history, notably, programs like FUSE and XTE, but updated with more current technology. We started an IRAD program about eight years ago, roughly speaking, to create what we called a "Common Bus." It was intended to be a full featured, agile, precision pointing platform for doing high quality science and remote sensing missions. That was an IRAD program that we felt was necessary to provide a spacecraft that was competitive in that class and price range. The first mission of the LEOStar-2 was the OrbView-4. This was the first production version of what was developed in the IRAD program and paved the way for the development of future missions like GALEX and SORCE. OrbView-4 was unfortunately lost in the 2001 Taurus failure but it still provided much of the design, development, qualification, and test heritage that went into the GALEX and SORCE spacecraft. The LEOStar-2 bus was also designed to be either single string or fully redundant. In the case of OrbView-4 and GALEX, they were both single string versions - SORCE is the first redundant LEOStar-2 bus that we've built. The original sequence had GALEX launching before us but due to a variety of schedule issues with the GALEX mission we were able to move ahead of them in the launch manifest. GALEX is, as you know, currently at KSC processing for launch in the next few weeks. 

Interspace: What type of modifications needed to be made to the "off the shelf" version of the LEOStar-2 to accommodate SORCE?

Rob: They were rather minor because most of the redundancy was built in. Obviously it affected the selection of components from subcontractors - we would buy redundant versions or add multiple copies of the same item. For example we had two transceivers instead of one and we bought dual wound torque rods rather then single wound. In terms of the interfaces to the bus itself, it really meant just adding additional interface points between the components and the existing spacecraft avionics. We were able to do it with a minimum of change because the redundant aspects of the spacecraft were largely built into the original design.

Interspace: I understand that SORCE was built in two separate locations - am I correct?

Rob: Correct. SORCE was intended to allow for Integration and Test, I&T, of the instruments at Colorado in parallel to and separate from the I&T of the spacecraft bus portion at Orbital. So we built the entire spacecraft structure, including what we call the instrument module, which consists of the instrument support structure and an optical bench assembly upon which the instruments mount. Once the instrument module structure was built and qualified, we delivered it to LASP in Colorado so that they would have the flight structure to build their instruments upon. In about March of last year the fully integrated and tested instrument module with all the instruments on board was then delivered to Orbital, integrated electrically and mechanically to the spacecraft bus, and then we went on to complete spacecraft system level testing and environmental exposures. The beauty of it was that it did allow parallel activities in development and testing in both the instrument electronics and the bus electronics, their respective system tests, and the software development. Part of the way SORCE facilitated that was by building and delivering to each other simulators that would allow the interfaces, software, command, and telemetry to be simulated between the instruments and the spacecraft bus. An instrument simulator that allowed us to communicate with and test the interfaces between the instruments and the spacecraft was provided by LASP, and a similar spacecraft simulator was provided by Orbital to LASP.

Interspace: Once the spacecraft was integrated where was it shipped?

Rob: The instrument module was shipped to Dulles, to our facilities, as I said in about March of 2002. We went through the rest of the system level system testing, including typical environmental tests of random vibration, separation/shock, thermal-vacuum, deployment, as well as complete spacecraft functional performance testing. All of this integrated testing was performed in our facility in Dulles. In late October of last year, we shipped SORCE to the Cape. So all of the work on the spacecraft, except for the instrument development and test, was done in our Dulles, Virginia facility.

Interspace: I'm looking at the sensitivity of the instruments and the fact that SORCE not only must accurately point at the Sun, but if I understand this correctly, other stars as well. How does SORCE find its targets? How do you point a spacecraft like SORCE accurately and keep it there?

Rob: It does point at stars because the SOLSTICE instruments are designed to calibrate themselves against the stars. The way that is done is through a series of maneuvers which are accomplished, in simplest terms, through the use of the spacecraft's attitude control system and a series of planned operational commands sent to the spacecraft. We have on board SORCE two star trackers and a fine Sun sensor. The two star trackers are designed to look at a portion of the sky, determine where the spacecraft is based on the star pattern that it recognizes, and that then is processed by the attitude control system which tells the spacecraft its current position in the sky. Then, SORCE can compute and execute the maneuver to point the instruments at a particular star, perform instrument calibration maneuvers, or resume solar viewing. So it’s done by virtue of the star trackers when we do stellar observations. When we are tracking the Sun, we can fly either on the two star trackers or we can fly on the fine Sun sensor and the star trackers in conjunction with each other.

Interspace: That's fascinating. What is the accuracy?

Rob: Pointing Accuracy?

Interspace: Yes.

Rob: Thepointing control is less than 60 arc seconds.  The pointing knowledge is less than 36 arc-sec.

Interspace: So once SORCE was shipped over to the Cape you came down from Dulles to work with it?

Rob: Right

Interspace: What needed to be done to get it ready for flight? 

The Pegasus booster that was used to launch SORCE into space is seen during the final preparations for launch.  Although the entire rocket is already inside a NASA clean room, an additional clean room was constructed around the rocket's nose to ensure that the spacecraft remained free from contamination as it was installed on the booster and encased within its launch fairing. Particles as small as a grain of dust can ruin the spacecraft or its sensitive scientific payload. Photo Credit: Robert Gass

 Rob: The final efforts at KSC in processing the spacecraft are generally related to several series of  functional tests to prove that the spacecraft and rocket will interface properly on launch day. We went through a functional test of the satellite alone when we arrived at KSC. This was primarily to demonstrate that we haven't broken anything in shipping. That was a very straightforward test that we had repeated many times at Dulles and of course passed without any problems. So once we had completed this "stand alone testing" the Pegasus launch vehicle arrived in mid-December. At that point, the primary testing we did was by participating in two flight simulations. In the Pegasus processing they are called Flight Sim 3 and Flight Sim 4 and they are basically incremental steps to demonstrate that the combined system of the satellite, the rocket, and ultimately the airplane which carries it all out to the launch point, would operate appropriately. During Flight Sim 3, the spacecraft is electrically cabled to the rocket and we "fly" the mission on the ground operating both the spacecraft and the rocket as we would on launch day. This demonstrates that all of the data from the spacecraft is accurately passed to the rocket which then passes it to the ground so that we can monitor the status during flight. It also tests the rockets ability to charge our batteries while we are in flight on the airplane, and of course provides verification that the rocket itself is performing nominally. Once that test was successful then we move to the mechanical mate and the final actual installation of the satellite on the forward end of the rocket. We perform all of the flight electrical and mechanical mating activities that are required prior to launch. Then we repeat that mission simulation test which is called Flight Sim 4. Again this is to verify interfaces, command, data, power, and overall performance of the entire system, including the rocket and spacecraft. Once that test is successful, everything moves forward from there toward the launch. The fairing is installed, the launch vehicle team rolls the rocket out to the airplane and is mated, and we perform one final series of tests where the data actually flows from the satellite, to the rocket, through the airplane, and back to the ground - exactly as it will on launch day. Most of the testing that we do at the Cape is what we call Integrated Processing with the rocket and I think its reasonably standard to what most satellites and launch vehicles do. We just have unique names and slightly different variations given the fact that Pegasus is air launched.

Interspace: Now let me take you back to the day the SORCE/Pegasus combination rolled out of the hanger. After working so hard on all of this and for so many years, what were your thoughts that morning when you saw Pegasus roll out of the hanger and you knew that it was time to either sink or swim?

Rob: It’s exciting! To see the rocket prepared for launch is the most exciting time in a program because all of the years of hard work and preparation and testing is finally coming to fruition. The long hours of preparation by what I consider to be the best team that I've ever been associated with finally is coming to a conclusionand you finally see that our goal is going to be achieved -to build and launch this satellite; that we have finally reached the end of the build stage and we are ready to launch it. It’s a period of great excitement, great anticipation, and quite frankly outright joy that it is time to launch it and see if it performs in space exactly as we expect it to.

Interspace: Come launch time where were you? 

 

Rob Fulton (left) and Dr Gary Rottman (Principal Investigator for SORCE) sit on console in hanger AE MDC (Mission Directors Center) during the launch of SORCE  Photo Credit: Rob Fulton

Rob: I was actually in Hanger AE in the Mission Director’s Center (MDC). I was in the launch control room in the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station supporting the launch activities from there. I was with the Principal Investigator, Dr. Gary Rottman, Omar Baez - the NASA launch manager, our support team for the spacecraft, as well as the Pegasus launch team all in this same facility.

Interspace: Pegasus is a little different from a conventional rocket in that it has two countdowns?

Rob: Yes - it has multiple steps but fundamentally there are two key points in the launch sequence. There's the takeoff point which is the airplane’s actual departure from the Air Force Station runway, and then there is the actual launch which is when the Pegasus is dropped from the airplane at a point about 120 miles off the cost of Florida. It is all integrated into a single launch checklist but these two significant milestones that are unique to the Pegasus countdown.

Interspace: There is a famous story that George Diller (the voice of NASA) likes to recount about the first time he had to call a Pegasus launch.  There were 3 clocks in front of him and he was not told which clock he should use. One counted to drop time; one was counting to engine firing, and one was counting to airplane takeoff. Since the airplane was already in the air he could tell which one that was but he had no idea which of the other two was the drop clock - so he guessed.  When it came time to count down to release he began calling off the last few seconds 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1... finally the rocket fell away much to his relief!

Laughter

Rob: Everything is actually tuned to the actual launch time but there are intermediate points and there is definitely a kind of re-syncing of the clocks, if you will, with the time that the plane actually goes wheels up and leaves the Air Force Station. It's a little bit unusual because traditional rockets get a countdown, they hit 0 and then they depart the pad and that's the end of the countdown. The beauty of Pegasus is that the launch pad is mobile and it allows you to launch from a point anywhere in the world given the right facilities and preparation. . So it adds a lot of flexibility. It also gives you the opportunity, as the airplane is flying out to the drop point, to monitor the health of the spacecraft prior to launch and gives you an ability to abort the launch prior to the actual drop and ignition of the Pegasus.

Interspace: That could be very convenient.

Rob: Yes it can. There are missions that have been recycled for a second launch attempt in the same day; in other words the plane flies a circle and comes back to the same drop point about an hour later and the launch is tried a second time. In other cases, we can actually bring the rocket and the satellite back to base and try again a different day once the problem has been resolved.SORCE was able to launch on the first attempt, fortunately.

Interspace: So what went through your head when you saw the launch? Did you see it? Were there video monitors?

The Mission Directors Center (MDC) during the launch of SORCE. This photo shows what Rob saw on launch day from his station. The countdown clock is on the right in red. The other displays monitor various systems within the spacecraft and its launcher. The video screen in the center shows the L-1011 mother ship preparing for takeoff. The words SORCE and SORCE PM  ( seen in green in the foreground) are call signs referring  to Dr Rottman and Rob respectively. Photo Credit: Rob Fulton

Rob: We had a large screen display in the control center that allowed you to watch exactly what was going out on NASA TV and also the onboard cameras from the L-1011 (carrier aircraft) which look at the forward and aft ends of the rocket prior to the drop. The chase plane video provided most of the images to NASA TV as well as to the control center. So we saw pretty much what the general public who was watching on NASA TV saw. What was going through my head? Lots of excitement and anticipation, and , like anyone in this business will tell you, a little nervousness, too. To me the worst part was the drop. It’s exciting, but it’s the one point at which you know you can't come back. When you hear the Pegasus drop count and the rocket is released from the airplane, that's about the longest 5 seconds in your life until the first stage ignites. But once it lights and the first stage of the Pegasus begins its powered flight, then it’s just a question of monitoring the data and insuring that things are still going well for the satellite. It was a virtually flawless launch and all the monitoring of the data out to the drop point for the airplane as well as the in-flight data from the satellite proved to be very nominal. Probably the other point of greatest anticipation was separation from the rocket. There is also a little bit of acknowledgement that there is no longer much you can do to control matters once the launch occurs. It's basically the rocket’s job to get you to orbit and fortunately, Pegasus did a great job of getting us there - so we're very happy.

Interspace: And they did a beautiful job on this one.

Rob: Oh yes! It was a flawless, perfect launch from all measures that I'm aware of and it put us in an orbit virtually identical to what we were targeting. It was certainly well within any dispersions that we would have predicted. Once the spacecraft separation is confirmed then it's just a question of getting a communications lock on the satellite and verifying that all the systems are working.

Interspace: A lot of people think that that's the end of the line. That once the spacecraft is in orbit the hard part is done but that's not true.

Rob: Yes - first and foremost we want to verify that everything is working. So we have a team of engineers that were at the ground station from the launch through the first week on orbit that make sure that all aspects of the satellite are performing nominally. For example, that the power system is operating within reasonable parameters, and that other subsystems like the command and data handling, communications, and attitude control systems are all operating as expected. Once we know the spacecraft is behaving as expected, then we incrementally increase the amount of activity and maneuvers that the spacecraft performs. We go from a coarse Sun pointing mode to a fine, high precision mode. We verify that the star trackers and the ACS are able to perform the maneuvers that are needed to support the science operations later, and we begin to understand any nuances of the spacecraft in orbit versus what we saw on the ground. We also perform a few, very minor, tweaks to the attitude control system to optimize its on-orbit performance. After about the first week or so, we begin to support the instrument commissioning activities. The instruments get powered on and checked out because we want to monitor any possible interactions between the instruments and the spacecraft bus. Again, we want to make sure that it operates exactly as it did when we tested prior to launch. Fortunately, so far, everything has worked exactly as it did on the ground. To date, the spacecraft and the instruments are performing exactly as we expected them to.

Interspace: So What's next?

Rob: For the mission or for me?

Interspace: Both.

Rob: For the mission, at this point the science team has finished the instrument commissioning, which is their check out phase to verify the instruments’ state of health, and they are just in the process of actually starting to collect science data. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the instruments will begin to review the instrument’s science data and perform instrument calibration maneuvers.. Over the course of the next few months, the spacecraft will begin to perform normal science operations and the scientists will begin to fully process the science data. That data will then be reviewed, processed, and distributed in accordance with the longer-term science goals. The other thing we are doing is training and supporting the University of Colorado flight operations staff as they take control of the spacecraft and begin to operate it on their own without a significant Orbital presence. The University of Colorado is quite adept at flying spacecraft - they fly several of them already including QUIKSCAT , SNOE, and ICESAT, but each spacecraft is slightly different. One of the other unique aspects of this mission is the fact that LASP has student participation in the SORCE operations. They support the professionals at LASP that operate, fly, and monitor the spacecraft and the science instruments. So that's kind of the longer term picture - we expect to ultimately "hand over the keys" for the satellite to the University of Colorado flight controllers as the spacecraft begins routine science operations for its 5 year mission. As for me personally, I would say that I am interested in starting all over and doing it again. The exact mission that I would go to work on is unclear. Orbital has a number of mission possibilities that are all in a LEOStar-2 category. My exact position is somewhat dependent on which mission gets initiated. . Of course I'll never be detached from it (SORCE) because as I tell my wife, launching a satellite is the closest thing to having a baby that the engineering world has to offer. You work on it for years and then finally you launch it and see it go off into the world on its own. You never loose touch with that and years from now I'm sure I will still be following the progress of the satellite and the science team.

Rob would like to thank all the people who participated in the SORCE project. In particular he wanted to thank the University of Colorado, LASP and all the folks at Orbital and NASA who devoted a good portion of their careers to making SORCE a reality. He wanted me to note that the SORCE mission has received praise from the highest levels within NASA and represents a prime example of how highly motivated and skilled people can come together to form a team that is truly greater than the sum of its parts - a team capable of reaching for the stars. 

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Last Space Shuttle prepares for launchInterActive Last Space Shuttle prepares for launch A close in look at space shuttle Atlantis on June 17th. Launch preparations are on going for...
The last space shuttle to be on the launch padInterActive The last space shuttle to be on the launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle to flight begins launch prepartions at pad 39A...
Last space shuttle arrives at launch padInterActive Last space shuttle arrives at launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis is seen here from the top of the rotating service structure the moring...
The last space shuttle has left the buildingInterActive The last space shuttle has left the building Space shuttle Atlantis rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the last time on the...
Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad   InterActive Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad Space shuttle Atlantis complete with the solid rocket boosters and external tank that will...
HiRes Atlantis hanging in VABInterActive HiRes Atlantis hanging in VAB HiRes image of Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging in the Vehical Assembly Building. This shot was...
Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5InterActive Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5 Space Shuttle Atlantis after being lifted into the verticle position before being mated to the...
Atlantis verticalInterActive Atlantis vertical Space Shuttle Atlantis hangs vertical before removing the rear hoist and lifting it for the...
Atlantis rolling verticalInterActive Atlantis rolling vertical Here Space Shuttle Atlantis is almost vertical being positioned to soon be mated to the...
Atlantis hanging in VABInterActive Atlantis hanging in VAB Space Shuttle Atlantis is seen here hanging about 10 feet above the VAB floor. It has justed...
Endeavour at nightInterActive Endeavour at night Space shuttle Endeavour seen here at night as launch preparation continue for the first launch...
Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final missionInterActive Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final mission Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling over the VAB for the last time. Atlantis is scheduled to be the...
Atlantis outside VAB for employee photosInterActive Atlantis outside VAB for employee photos Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle, pauses during rollover from the OPF to the VAB...
Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttleInterActive Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttle Hi Resolution composit image of the last space shuttle, Atlantis, as it sits atop the transport...
Atlantis in the VABInterActive Atlantis in the VAB Nice 360 degree view of the VAB with Atlantis being preped for the Lift and Mate procedure
Atlantis on the sled in VABInterActive Atlantis on the sled in VAB Explore the VAB with Space Shuttle Atlantis on the sled after rollover to the VAB jst before...
Atlantis being attached to slingInterActive Atlantis being attached to sling Full 360 degree panorama from inside the VAB as Space Shuttle Atlantis is attached to the sling...
Endeavour after RSS retractionInterActive Endeavour after RSS retraction Hi-Res image of Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad 39A minutes after the RSS was...
The Mound STS-134 4/29 AttemptInterActive The Mound STS-134 4/29 Attempt This a 360 degree panorama from the mound of the KSC media center. This was the scence about an...
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)InterActive Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
AMS in the SSPFInterActive AMS in the SSPF The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunriseInterActive Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise the morning it arrived from the VAB. How...
Endeavour in the VABInterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Endeavour in the VABInterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Space Shuttle Discovery final towoverInterActive Space Shuttle Discovery final towover View of Space Shuttle Discovery 4 hours after returning to Earth for the last time. Discovery...
Space Shuttle Discovery Final LaunchInterActive Space Shuttle Discovery Final Launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Space shuttle Discovery final launchInterActive Space shuttle Discovery final launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Discovery at NightInterActive Discovery at Night This a panorama of Space Shuttle Discovery shortly after RSS retraction on 11/3/2010 preparing...
GRIP DC-8 PanoramaInterActive GRIP DC-8 Panorama Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
GRIP DC-8 InteriorInterActive GRIP DC-8 Interior Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
NASA GRIP DC-8InterActive NASA GRIP DC-8 The NASA DC-8 is a four-engine jet transport that has been highly modified to support the...
Endeavour on padInterActive Endeavour ready for launch HiRes image of Endeavour at Pad 39A
AMS-2 Antimatter TelescopeInterActive AMS-2 Antimatter Telescope Explore the SSPF and ESA's Antimatter Telescope. 360 rotating,zoomable Panorama!
Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for the last timeInterActive Explore LC-39A !! Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for...