New Horizons: Recollections of Ground System Engineer, Steve Gemeny

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8, and has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument.

When we think about the ground system on a space mission we tend to consider all the systems associated with commanding, receiving and archiving telemetry, and all the communications systems and equipment that makes that all work.  We plan contingencies, and redundancies, we back up everything in multiple formats, and on long duration missions like New Horizons someone eventually has to address “how are we going to keep all that stuff on the ground running for 10 – 20 years”-  and produces a Longevity Plan.

But once everything is all setup, and operational, and all the staff are at their stations on launch day – having already given the first “Go For Launch” pole responses with 5 hours till launch – You have to wonder, did anyone ever consider what to do if the entire JHU/APL campus goes dark!

No one had.  And with a newly installed cutover for the main (PEPCO) power feed providing an automatic transfer to a backup (BGE) feed  no one expected to ever need the capability, let alone that it would failed to transfer.  It did- at about 5:30 am on launch day while I was on console at KSC.  The rapid application of backup generators to sustain the Mission Operations Center at APL only solved half of the issues…  Network switches and routers were scattered across campus, most only running on UPS Power until that failed too… there was no cooling air to keep everything operating within normal temperatures on January 18, 2006…  Things were going from bad to worse and the Mission System Engineer was heard to say “  I’ve seen how quickly a Launch day can get deep into the contingency  plan, I’m not starting a launch when we are already this deep into solving unplanned contingencies”. This resulted in the launch being scrubbed and resumed on January 19th after power and environmental control systems were restored campus wide at APL.

Fortunately, I spent the time that afternoon to write the whole thing up in case I was asked to give a report, I’ve got pictures of generators outside Building 13, with external air handlers and chillers hosed up to blowers and leaks flooding the hallways…  It was a ZOO!.  I was safe at KSC and we restarted the count for a successful launch on the 19th.

Steve Gemeny teaches Ground Systems Design & Operations course for ATICourses.

Other scientists & engineers that worked on the New Horizons and also teach for ATI are:

1. Dr. Alan Stern

2. Eric Hoffman

3. Chris DeBoy

4. Dr. Mark E. Pittelkau

5. Douglas Mehoke

6. John Penn

7. Timothy Cole

8. Robert Moore

9. Jay Jenkins


Read more


Sign Up For ATI Courses eNewsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *