Miracle in Space

NASA honors UNH team for rescue of mission-critical instrument

Monday, April 11, 2016
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large group of scientists and students pose beneath a rocket ship

The UNH team that worked on NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, or MMS.

Six years ago, a team from UNH’s Space Science Center performed a miracle, rescuing a mission-critical instrument for NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission that had fallen behind in its development. NASA recently honored that team of engineers, scientists, technicians, machinists and managers with its Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Achievement Award for Engineering.

The heroic scramble involved the MMS Spin-plane Double Probe (SDP), 16 200-foot-long wire booms — four on each of the four spinning MMS spacecraft — with orange-sized sensors at the end. On April 23, 2015, just over a month after MMS launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the SDP booms and sensors deployed without a hitch.

“People were pretty impressed that a team that’s never done this before could actually pull it off and succeed, given a late start and no real heritage in mechanisms in space,” says investigation project manager John Macri of the Space Science Center in EOS. “But they did it. This team is very proud of that, and I’m very proud of them.”

The award, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, recognizes "the exceptional achievements of individuals and teams whose contributions significantly impact the achievements of the Center’s scientific, technical and institutional capabilities that enhance mission performance.” Macri acknowledges that while the award is a fitting recognition of years of hard, demanding work, the mission’s success is the true reward. Engineering is a “tremendous strength” of UNH’s Space Science Center, he says.

“There’s a real sense of satisfaction when you give the scientists what they’ve been wanting,” he says. “They are just delighted with the quality of the data. They’re drinking from data firehoses.”

UNH members of the honored team are MMS mission deputy principal investigator Roy Torbert, Brian King, Mark Granoff, Pieter Beckman, Ivan Dors, Colin Frost, John Nolin, Aaron Bolton, Jon Googins, John Levasseur, Caleigh MacPherson, Dave Rau, John Salwen, Steve Turco, Phil Demaine, Todd Jones, Jerry Needell, Stan Ellis, Mark Chutter, Kevin Mello, Jim Tyler, Steve Myers, Christine Williams and Macri. Also honored are UNH’s collaborating colleagues at universities and research institutions in Colorado, Sweden and Finland.