NEWS | Sept. 9, 2014

NRL Hosts NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

By Daniel Parry

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) welcomed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator, Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, on-board, August 4, to visit key space program facilities and meet with NRL team leads, scientists, and engineers assisting NASA in achieving its mission goals.

Arriving at NRL headquarters located in Washington, D.C., Bolden, accompanied by NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Charles Gay, and Heliophysics Division Director, Dr. Jeffrey Newmark was greeted by Director of Research, Dr. John Montgomery; Commanding Officer, Capt. Mark Bruington; and Capt. Kay Hire, Captain in the United States Navy Reserve and NASA astronaut.

After a morning briefing, the group was provided a tour of NRL's Payload Checkout Facility, where thermal-vacuum tests recently concluded on the last of four newly developed NASA Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission satellites. The MMS mission will use the four identical spacecraft, variably spaced in Earth orbit, to make three-dimensional measurements of magnetospheric boundary regions and examine the process of magnetic reconnection—improving our understanding of Earth's magnetosphere and our ability to better predict dynamic space weather events.

To fully ensure each spacecraft is functioning properly and is sufficiently optimized for operation in the harsh space environment prior to launch, NRL and NASA engineers working at the Naval Center for Space Technology's Spacecraft Engineering Department conducted thermal vacuum tests of spacecraft and spaceflight components in the Payload Checkout Facility. There, NRL operates three large thermal vacuum chambers that can simulate both the vacuum environment of space as well as the thermal cycling that occurs as the satellites orbit the Earth.

Concluding the tour at the facility's 'cleanroom,' co-developed by NASA and NRL and staging area for the suite of MMS spacecraft, the group was provided a first-hand look at the daily operations that support the pre-test preparation of each vehicle, including non-flight instrumentation installation and pre- and post-functional testing.

The NRL Spacecraft Engineering Department and the Space Systems Development Department, together comprising the Naval Center for Space Technology (NCST), cooperatively develop space systems to respond to Department of Defense (DoD) and national mission requirements with improved performance, capacity, reliability, efficiency, and life cycle cost.