Employee Spotlight: Dream Chaser® Spaceplane Systems Engineer, Mike T.

February 25, 2020

Mike is an engineer on the Dream Chaser® spaceplane team – and although he graduated from college just a few short years ago, SNC’s Space System group leadership describes Mike as one of the team’s high performers.

We spent some time with him, to learn more about a recent win that helped SNC complete a milestone (on time), and why he feels inspired to be part of the team.

What drew you to work at SNC?
I grew up near Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, so I’ve been around aerospace my entire life. I’m a space nerd, so being able to work on an actual spaceship was such a cool opportunity for me. I'm inspired to work on the Dream Chaser, a spaceship that [might one day] carry astronauts.

You are a systems engineer; what's a day in the life?
Here at SNC, I’m a test conductor, so there are two flavors of my work life. For the last couple months, I've been at a test facility in Littleton, Colorado. Otherwise, I’m at my desk in Louisville, where [I put together] test plans and reports. I tag up with vendors and have lots of meetings, [which can be about] anything from planning a test or how to source a particular piece of equipment for the test.

I understand you had a recent win having to do with a sensor that broke and then needed to be replaced… can you explain what happened?
We were working on a sensor demonstration where the test mimicked the spacecraft’s approach to the International Space Station  We tested at a Lockheed Martin facility [because it] has a full-scale International Space Station mockup. We brought three sensors with us and one broke.

SSG leadership says you ultimately helped save the test.
[When it broke, we knew] there was another sensor being made in parallel by the vendor. We pushed our vendor to accelerate the manufacturing and deliver it to us, so we could finish the demo.

Everyone on the team knew the urgency to [finish the testing] by the end of the year, so when the sensor broke, everyone began working backup plans. The sensor failing pushed the testing back about a month, so we had just six days to do the test.

It was a big team effort. Everyone understood we had a job to do and stayed focused, no silly mistakes. People worked 10-11 hour days, even on Saturday and Sundays, and still joked around.

What keeps you excited about your job each day?
It’s been great to work with the SNC team. I’m a young engineer, just two and a half years out of college, and more experienced engineers here never hesitate to explain things to me. I really appreciate it.

When it comes to my job, I take a step back and look at the big picture. The task may not always be the most exciting, like reviewing test procedures, but you need to stay focused and give it your full attention. You hear leadership say we're trying to change the world. Just keep on pushing.

What keeps me inspired is knowing that one day, we can all say we worked on Dream Chaser.


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