Becky Johnson, AER E Alum, Lands Dream Job

Becky Johnson (BS Aero 2003, MEng Aero 2004) has landed her dream job. She loves Astrodynamics, and her job title for over three years has been Orbital Analyst with the Space Test and Engineering Contract (STEC) at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. STEC supports the Space Development and Test Wing (SDTW). STEC is primarily composed of Department of Defense (DoD) contractors that work closely with military officers and government civilians. They have a variety of government, military, and commercial customers.

Becky tells us, “By the time the projects arrive here, most of the concept research has already taken place. The STEC contract work that I’m engaged with provides services and support from the readiness phase (additional research, testing, integration, etc. that needs to be done before launch) through the end of the mission life. Our Research, Development and Test Support Complex (RSC) operates both simple R&D satellites… as well as larger, more complex satellites… via the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) and NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS).”

“CloudSat was launched in April 2006 and has been a very exciting mission for us. It is a NASA Earth Science mission and part of the Afternoon Constellation. We launched… on a Delta II and performed a series of orbit-raising maneuvers to position ourselves within the constellation. There were three of us OAs that did all of the Launch and Early Orbit maneuver planning. One of which was me!! It was a huge success, and the three of us each received two awards from NASA—which was pretty cool.’’

Cool, indeed. See the photo of Becky and her colleagues who got the NASA award at a JPL ceremony.

Becky reports that as of April 2008, “We began doing maneuvers 13 days after we launched and have now completed over 54 maneuvers!” And where did this seasoned professional get her start? Right in our department’s own AerE 351 course. Becky also took AerE 451 and 551.

“Each mission that we work on is unique and each brings new challenges and lessons learned.” Another mission that Becky was involved with was Orbital Express. This is an excerpt taken from a Boeing website about the unique mission: “Three hundred miles above Earth, historic events in space are occurring. For the first time in history, a spacecraft robotically is transferring propellant and a battery to a client satellite. This major milestone is being accomplished by Boeing’s Orbital Express system…”Becky also works on various other missions. She’s a real-life rocket scientist who has to react to changing conditions of satellite dynamics when things don’t always work out as planned.

“As an OA, I provide mission support by performing duties such as orbit determination, orbit prediction, maneuver planning, product generation, formation flying assessment, collision avoidance analysis, Delta II booster support, and STS (Shuttle) mission support.” Wow, Becky, that’s the full complement of engineering astrodynamics.Becky includes a link for those of us who want to learn more about the Space Development and Test Wing at Kirtland AFB:

And although Becky works hard, she plays hard too. She loves her new home in New Mexico. “This place is perfect for me because I am such an outdoorsy person.” Here’s a partial list of her rockin’ spare time activities, “Snowboarding, spelunking, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, sky diving, wakeboarding, white water rafting, kayaking, shooting, and more.”

“One of my biggest accomplishments was my first 14er!! [note: she means 14,000 foot mountain.] I climbed Mt. Blanca in Colorado with 3 other people. It was very difficult, but very satisfying when I got done. I hope to climb another one (or two, or three) in the upcoming years.”

“I have also started running more regularly. Last year, I competed in my first 5K and took first place for the women. Next up is the Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon in San Antonio.”

Becky, you’ve always been first-place in our book. Take a look at the photos to check out some of Becky’s other thrilling hobbies.

Link to more photos of Becky Johnson

– Written and submitted by Dale Chimenti, AER E faculty member