Until this year, Brandon Lojewski’s rocket experience included a handful of model rocket launches for Team America Rocketry Challenge and NASA’s Student Launch Initiative. This summer, the Kennedy Space Center intern witnessed rocket launches of a much larger magnitude — and from a different view. On June 18, 2009, Lojewski was in Cape Canaveral, Fla., for the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite on an Atlas V rocket. On June 27, he was back at the cape for the launch of a Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite on a Delta IV.
“To say the least, the Delta IV and Atlas V are quite a bit more complicated than the paper TARC rockets,” Lojewski said.
From inside NASA’s Launch Vehicle Data Center, intern Brandon Lojewski watched the launches of two of the largest rockets NASA uses. Image Credit: Brandon Lojewski
On launch days, the University of Central Florida student sat on console in the Launch Vehicle Data Center. “I had a headset and a computer console to click around in. The headsets have about 30 different voice channels you can tune in to and hear all the steps of the mission and any problems that are encountered,” he said. “Being ‘behind the scenes’ is really an honor because it has made me realize and appreciate the depth, size and complexity of our nation’s space program.”
Lojewski started his internship just in time to attend the dress rehearsals and Flight Readiness Reviews for both launches. “Sitting in and listening to the technical discussions between engineers is so cool,” he said. “It is the real deal here.
“Planning for a launch starts years in advance. Every single component of the rocket is analyzed and monitored every second until the end of the mission. Some missions can even last a few decades. The stuff I am exposed to here is absolutely incredible.”
He also watched the launch and landing of the STS-127 space shuttle mission. “Getting to witness human spaceflight first hand is absolutely amazing,” commented Lojewski. “The Astronaut Crew Quarters are in my building (Operations and Checkout). I was able to go downstairs and watch the astronauts board the Astrovan, watch them launch (from) as close as possible and watch them land (from) as close as possible. These are literally once-in-a-lifetime events that I got to witness.”
Lojewski was an intern in the Mission Integration Branch in the Launch Services Program for expendable launch vehicles at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. He interned through the Space and Aeronautics Internship Program, sponsored by Space Florida and the Florida Space Grant Consortium.
One of Lojewski’s projects was designing, developing and publishing Iris pages displayed to engineers on console for launch. “Iris pages are a graphical interface which displays all of the real-time telemetry measurements from the launch vehicle and spacecraft for the engineers to monitor during the launch countdown, liftoff and ascent,” he explained. “Currently, all of the necessary parameters the integration engineers monitor are either scattered over multiple Iris pages or do not have a user-friendly graphical interface, potentially leading to confusion during the countdown.”
To improve the mission integration process, Lojewski designed and developed generic and launch vehicle fleet-specific Iris screens to display all the necessary parameters in a single screen. He outlined and defined the display requirements, used software to create the new screens, and presented the screens to a software review board for final approval.
As part of his internship, Brandon Lojewski toured the Vehicle Assembly Building where preparations are being made for the launch of the Ares I-X flight test rocket in late 2009. Image Credit: Brandon Lojewski
Another task this summer was assisting with the creation of a Mission Integration Branch lessons learned database. Lojewski worked alongside the software developers to ensure all requirements were implemented into the database interface. “Currently the branch’s lessons learned are scattered in different formats and places,” he said. “It is my responsibility to compile and unify previous lessons learned with the new lessons learned database. Creating a lessons learned database specific to the integration engineering branch will simplify the sorting process and organize the information.”
Lojewski’s rocket experiences began his junior year of high school in Joseph Vallone’s honors physics course at Plantation High School in Plantation, Fla. The year before, the school had entered its first student team in the Team America Rocketry Challenge. TARC challenges teams to design, build and fly a model rocket to reach a specific altitude and duration determined by a set of rules developed each year.
“When Mr. Vallone shared the previous year’s stimulating stories with the class, I immediately became drawn to rocketry within the first few days of class and without ever having built or flown a rocket,” Lojewski said. “Taking physics with Mr. Vallone ignited a fire inside of me that brought out the fundamental human quest for knowledge and discovery in me. On top of being extremely involved with his students, Mr. Vallone is an exceptional teacher, and I am very fortunate to have been his student.”
In his first year at TARC, Lojewski’s team finished 59th. However, two of the school’s teams placed in the top 25, earning students the opportunity to draft two proposals for the 2006 NASA Student Launch Initiative. SLI invites the top TARC teams to submit a proposal for designing, building and launching a rocket with a scientific payload to an altitude of one mile. Teams with accepted proposals then build and launch their rockets at the annual SLI launch event, sponsored by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The project supports NASA’s goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“SLI is a whole new ballgame compared to TARC,” Lojewski said. “The proposal itself was a document containing about 40 pages (which seemed large at the time). … The processes that SLI introduced me to were extremely beneficial. The entire progression of the SLI project mirrors actual NASA procedures very closely. SLI required that we perform Preliminary Design Reviews, Critical Design Reviews, Flight Readiness Reviews, Educational Engagement, Scale Testing, etc.
“Now having an internship at NASA, I am allowed to attend these events for the Launch Services Program and witness real-life engineering of launch vehicles and spacecraft.”
Lojewski said participating in SLI and TARC was beneficial because it made the applications of math and physics more concrete. He currently is part of a team preparing for NASA’s University Student Launch Initiative, or USLI, which is similar to SLI, but for college students. Lojewski also is working toward a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in materials science and engineering through an accelerated master’s program at the University of Central Florida.
“Programs like SLI and TARC allow students to witness applications of math and science instead of only seeing math on a blackboard. It allows the student to feel a sense of accomplishment when they get to watch their rockets fly,” Lojewski said. “It made me think ‘If I can do this, why can’t I build the real deal?’ And I realized it’s possible: All you have to do is set your goal and work toward it.”
The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters provides funding for SLI and USLI. ATK Launch Systems is the corporate sponsor for both projects.