Interview: Kimberly Slater of Draper Laboratory Discusses the Challenges of Hypersonic Flight

Kimberly Slater (Credit: Draper Laboratory)

by David Bullock
Staff Writer

Parabolic Arc conducted a Q&A with Kimberly Slater, the Commercial and Science Space Lead at Draper Laboratory, about the guidance, navigational and control software she has worked on for Stratolaunch’s Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle.

Tell me a little about yourself, your engineer and career background and how you got to work for Draper.

Right now I currently lead our civil commercial science space work at Draper, but my history before Draper was all in human space flight. My engineering degree is in man machine interface design. And everything I did before Draper was building, developing, testing, and flying scientific experiments on the space shuttle and space station. So, I did everything from design and build to writing software, writing the interface training manuals to the software—the procedure that the astronauts use on orbit—and then I did crew training for both the American and Russian crew for both space station and shuttle and then mission support and then mission control centers in both Moscow and Houston to support the mission. You know that whole ‘Houston we have a problem’ question when things on orbit and any anomaly has happened during that real time fast paced mission support. 

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Former BAE Systems Executive Jerry M. Wohletz to Lead Draper

Jerry M. Wohletz (Credit: Draper Laboratory)

CAMBRIDGE, MA (Draper PR) — The Board of Directors of The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc., announced today that Dr. Jerry M. Wohletz, a senior executive at BAE Systems, Inc., has been selected as Draper’s next President and Chief Executive Officer.

Wohletz will assume his position on June 27. He succeeds William A. LaPlante, who stepped down as CEO in April after the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination by President Biden as Under Secretary for Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. Tara Clark, who has been serving as Draper’s Acting President and CEO, will return to her role as Vice President for Operations when Wohletz begins his duties.

Draper’s Chairman of the Board, David R. Shedd, is delighted to welcome Wohletz to Draper. Shedd noted that “Jerry brings a breadth and depth of experience as Draper’s next president and CEO that make him ideal for this position. His widespread reputation as a strong leader with a long-standing commitment to the pursuit of excellence in the national security sector underscores why Jerry is an outstanding choice to lead Draper for the coming years.”

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NASA Awards Laser Air Monitoring System and Spacecraft Avionics Contracts for Orion

An Orion spacecraft approaches the lunar Gateway. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded Dynetics Inc. of Huntsville, Alabama, a contract to produce a Laser Air Monitoring System (LAMS) for the agency’s Orion spacecraft beginning with the Artemis III mission.

NASA has also selected Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to provide development and operations support for the avionics software suite that will guide the agency’s next generation of human rated spacecraft on missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

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William A. LaPlante, former MITRE Executive, to Lead Draper

William LaPlante (Credit: Draper Lab)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Draper Lab PR) — The Board of Directors of The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc., announced today that Dr. William LaPlante, a senior executive at The MITRE Corporation, has been selected as Draper’s next president and chief executive officer.

LaPlante will assume his position on October 7 when Francis Kearney, interim president and CEO, steps down and transitions his roles and responsibilities. Kearney, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, has served on Draper’s board of directors since 2015 and in his current role since 2020.

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Dynetics to Develop NASA’s Artemis Human Lunar Landing System

Artist concept of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: Dynetics)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Dynetics PR) — Dynetics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos (NYSE: LDOS), has been awarded a contract under NASA’s Artemis program to design a Human Landing System (HLS) and compete to build a system to take the first woman and next man to the lunar surface by 2024.

Dynetics is one of three prime contractors selected.

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NASA Chooses 9 Companies to Bid on Lunar Delivery Contracts

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Nine U.S. companies now are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts, as one of the first steps toward long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars.

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Draper Laboratory Unveils Team for NASA’s Next Moonshot

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Draper, a company with a heritage in space exploration dating to the Apollo moon landings, announced today its team for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract. Under the proposal, the team will support NASA in the delivery of small rovers and instruments to meet lunar science and exploration needs, advance development of lunar landers for human missions and conduct more research on the moon’s surface ahead of a human return.

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A Look at NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Plans


Last month NASA officials gave a series of presentations about the space agency’s deep-space exploration plans to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee. I have excerpted slides from those presentations to provide an overview of what the space agency is planning.
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Draper Readies Dream Chaser for International Space Station

Dream Chaser spacecraft in orbit. (Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Draper Laboratory PR) – Flight software developed by Draper is helping to bring routine commercial space flight one step closer to reality. The software will be on Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser® spacecraft for resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). When the un-crewed spacecraft launches to the ISS, its mission will be to deliver six tons of food, supplies and fuel to the orbiting laboratory.

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NSRC Day 3 Summary

Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems' Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)
Test flights will eventually take place on Masten Space Systems’ Xaero vehicle. (Credit: Masten Space Systems)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference finished up today in Colorado. There were provider presentations from Masten Space Systems and Virgin Galactic. Three researchers also presented results from suborbital microgravity flights.

Below are summaries of the sessions based on Tweets.
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Bandwidth Starved Satellite Imagery Providers Could Bring Data to the Ground Via Lasers

On 22 October 2013, NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), on board the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 400 000 km between Earth and the Moon at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). (Credit: NASA)
On 22 October 2013, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD), on board the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, made history using a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 400 000 km between Earth and the Moon at a record-breaking download rate of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). (Credit: NASA)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Draper PR) Commercial satellite imagery firms launch new constellations to take frequent, high-resolution video and photographs of the Earth to improve decision-making for agricultural, environmental, humanitarian, commercial and national security issues. Increased accessibility of images and data from space provide views of the Earth that help optimize tasks ranging from planting crops to shaping traffic patterns on land and sea.

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Draper Software Could Warn Astronauts of Performance Issues

NSBRI metrics and methods simulator. (Credit: Draper Laboratory)
NSBRI metrics and methods simulator. (Credit: Draper Laboratory)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Draper Laboratory PR) – Many automobiles today alert the driver if they are drifting from one lane into another, or if they are nearing a potential collision with another vehicle. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have few of these types of alerts as they manually capture spacecraft docking to deliver supplies or crew, as was the case when the Japanese HTV arrived on Aug. 23. They even lack many of the cues that automobile drivers experience as they pull into a parking space, such as feeling the resistance of the curb, or the lines on a dashboard camera.

Draper, working under contract to the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), will develop software that provides astronauts with helpful alerts in real time. By monitoring the way human operators interact with space systems, the alert software could also recognize when an astronaut is overwhelmed and suggest offloading certain tasks to other personnel or suggest re-allocating tasks between the human and the computer.

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Draper Develops Method to Improve Future Spacecraft Design

Draper_logoSystem being developed to help Astronauts take full advantage of usable room inside long duration space missions.

CAMBRIDGE, MA (Draper Laboratory PR) – The useable area aboard a spacecraft is at a premium once you fill it with people, supplies to sustain them, equipment for experimentation, and that which is needed to operate the craft. Yet, weightlessness creates opportunities for astronauts to expand their working and living environment because they are not constrained by being bound to a “floor.” However, NASA has yet to map how astronauts take advantage of weightlessness to expand the useable area of their vehicles.

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Draper to Flight Test New Spacesuit Technology

Draper_gyroscopeCAMBRIDGE, MA (Draper Laboratory PR) – As Sandra Bullock’s character in the movie “Gravity” spun away from the space shuttle following an accident during a spacewalk, she found herself disoriented and unable to determine her own position. Astronauts find that the lack of gravitational force that made her character unable to distinguish up from down can also be disorienting when doing routine research and other tasks in the initial days after reaching orbit, and its absence during prolonged weightlessness can lead to muscle and bone loss.

NASA has funded Draper Laboratory to address these concerns with new spacesuit technology that introduces a sensation similar to gravitational pull, giving them a sense of “down” while in space. The artificial force could also keep astronauts healthier by giving them the slight resistance to movement that comes with gravity, which helps keep muscles in shape and bones from degenerating.

The space agency announced plans on April 22 to test Draper’s spacesuit technology in a microgravity environment during parabolic flight funded by its Flight Opportunities Program.

“This flight opportunity allows us to demonstrate our technology in a relevant environment for spaceflight use, as well as determine how much torque we need to generate so that astronauts can feel the resistance while weightless,” explained Kevin Duda, Draper’s principal investigator for the Variable Vector Countermeasure Suit (V2Suit).

Draper began development of the V2Suit, which includes an inertial measurement unit and control moment gyroscopes to raise or lower resistance to body movements, with funding from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) office. Draper is also investigating the possibility of applying the same technology here on Earth to stabilize walking and other movements for the elderly, and assist with injury rehabilitation.











NASA Selects 12 NIAC Phase I Projects for Funding

Titan submarine
Titan submarine

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 12 proposals for study under Phase I of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, which aims to turn science fiction into fact through pioneering technology development.

The selected proposals cover a wide range of imaginative concepts, including:

  • a submarine to explore the methane lakes of Titan;
  • using neutrinos to perform measurements for the icy moons of the outer planets; and,
  • a concept to safely capture a tumbling asteroid, space debris, and other applications.

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