SmallSat Student Winners: Where are They Now?

This year will be the 25th Frank J. Redd Student Competition at SmallSat. This competition is an amazing opportunity for students to share their work on small satellite concepts and missions. At the same time, it puts these ambitious students in the spotlight with current industry professionals (and potential employers!).

Student competition winners in 2016.
Student competition winners in 2016.

In the first 24 years of the competition, many of the winners have gone on to distinguish themselves in their profession. We caught up with a few of them to see where they have landed. This will be the first post in a series.

Hans Carlson and Roy Gladden, from Utah State University, were joint winners in 1998.

On their winning project: 

It was a joint project that started as our senior project at Utah State, and was called “HOSS”, the Hydrogen On-Orbit Storage and Supply mission. Essentially we designed a small satellite to test a cryogenic dewar on-orbit that could support infrared and other optical payloads which required cooling. We put together a system level spacecraft design with all of the thermal, structural, and performance analysis including a fairly detailed finite element model. We were the first team from the host university of Utah State to win the student competition. Frank Redd and Chuck Swenson were our sponsoring faculty members.


What Hans is doing now:Carlson Photo

I am currently the owner of TZero, a small aerospace consulting firm focused on satellite launch, small satellites, and business development. We help small start-ups and other companies identify, negotiate, and implement small satellite development and launch programs. Previously, I spent 7 years on active duty in the Air Force with assignments at the Space Test Program in Albuquerque and the NRO in Washington DC. Since leaving the Air Force, I have primarily consulted across the industry providing business development, systems engineering, and strategic planning support in the commercial, DoD, and IC markets.

What the competition meant for him:

For me the competition was a huge boost, completing my undergraduate studies at Utah State. Besides helping to fund the transition to graduate school, I was able to meet a wide variety of people in the small satellite industry who opened many professional and personal opportunities down the road. In fact, winning the Student Paper Competition led directly to my first job in the Air Force. After completing graduate school at ASU, I had received orders to an assignment at Vandenberg AFB for basic missile training. At the last minute those orders were changed to STP in Albuquerque at the request of a Colonel Mouse Neumeister, who just happened to be one of the judges from the competition. This allowed me to work a number of satellite development and launch programs which laid the foundation for my role in the small satellite industry today.

For those thinking of taking the time to put together a student paper submission, my advice is GO FOR IT! Besides the potential monetary compensation, which is fairly substantial for a student, the professional and networking opportunities and the experience in writing and briefing a technical concept will be invaluable as you move into the industry.


What Roy is doing now:

This artist concept shows the MAVEN spacecraft and the limb of Mars.

I work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. I work for the Mars Program Office with an emphasis on what is called relay operations. My job is quite varied in its nature, and I work with every Mars mission that participates in what we call the Mars Relay Network. Since the two rovers on the surface of Mars (Curiosity and Opportunity) are quite mass-limited, they couldn’t carry with them large antennas for communicating with Earth. Instead, the rovers send all of their acquired science data through the orbiters that are circling Mars, which, at the present time, includes NASA’s Mars 2001 Odyssey Orbiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN), and ESA’s Mars Express Orbiter and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO).

I lead the coordination of when and how the spacecraft all talk to each other. Every one of these spacecraft are independently funded and operated, so this involves working with the project managers to define and scale agreements for relay services, as well as working with the implementers on the projects who operate the spacecraft on a day-to-day basis. As part of this, I lead a software development team that implements a tool called the Mars Relay Operations Service (MaROS), which is a centralized planning tool used by all these projects to communicate the necessary data between them.

Since new spacecraft are sent to Mars on a regular basis, I also work with the upcoming missions (and there are relatively a lot of them planned for launch in 2020) to ensure interoperability when those spacecraft arrive at Mars and join the relay network.

What the competition meant for Roy:

It is without a doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the student competition. Our paper and the attending presentation attracted the attention of several managers at JPL. I was wise enough to have a stack of resumes handy after our presentation, and I managed to thrust one of them into the hands of a hiring manager at JPL. When it comes to solar system exploration, JPL is really where it’s at, and I aggressively pursued getting hired there. While doing that, I was finishing my master’s degree, and the winnings from the competition helped me (along with working 3 odd jobs around campus …) to graduate free and clear of student debt.

After graduation, I was indeed hired on at JPL. At first, I worked with an organization that developed new engineering technologies for spacecraft development, but soon moved into the Mars program. I worked pre-launch development for the Mars 2001 Odyssey spacecraft and continued with that project into mission operations. This thing called “relay” was a fairly new thing and I ended up being instrumental in defining the strategies and approaches used for implementing it across the many missions. I worked on several other Mars missions through the years until settling into the Mars Program Office in 2008.

The experience I gained from the student competition in working with my team, preparing a quality technical paper, standing up and presenting that paper in an understandable manner, and then following that up with networking with people within the industry has proven invaluable throughout my career. We got a lot of miles out of that paper and the student competition, and it was most definitely worth the effort!

We’re looking forward to this year’s SmallSat conference student competition! We hope to see many future industry leaders there.

College Students from across the globe compete for awards made possible through generous donations from organizations and individuals within the small satellite community. If you’d like to help us reach this year’s goal of $50,000 by contributing to the endowment fund, please donate here.

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