Ball Aerospace engineering VP focuses on space situational awareness, industry-government collaboration and technology transfer

"The landscape of aerospace is rapidly changing with new commercial players and budget pressures. For example, the role of National Laboratories and NASA centers has significantly changed over the years, and we are working hard to understand and find novel ways to work with them to solve some of the nation’s most pressing and difficult challenges," Ball Aerospace Vice President of Engineering Michael Gazarik tells Space Tech Conference Director Mindy Emsley. "We also see great opportunities. For instance, technology transfer partnerships are a great way to leverage the laboratories and industry."

Ball Aerospace engineering VP focuses on space situational awareness, industry-government collaboration and technology transfer
Ball Aerospace engineering VP focuses on space situational awareness, industry-government collaboration and technology transfer

Space Tech Speaker Spotlight on Michael Gazarik, Vice President of Engineering, Ball Aerospace

Michael joined Ball Aerospace & Technology Corporation in 2015 from NASA, where he was the Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters. He provides overall strategic and operational leadership of Ball Aerospace. Prior to this position, he served as Technical Director, where he worked to align Ball’s technology development with business development and growth strategies. He has over 25 years’ experience in the design, development and deployment of spaceflight systems, and has contributed to the development of technology with application to NASA’s exploration, space operations and science missions.

Ahead of his talk at Space Tech, Michael spoke to Conference Director Mindy Emsley about his role at Ball, current and past SSA programs, and Ball’s position in working with government and industry to improve future space operations.

ME: Mindy Emsley

MG: Michael Gazarik

ME Please tell us about your role as Vice President of Engineering at Ball Aerospace. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?

MG I am a member of the Ball Aerospace executive leadership team, which sets the direction of the company to go beyond our customers’ needs. As the VP of Engineering, I am focused on aligning our staff, capabilities, facilities, supply chain, and technologies with our strategic direction. My goal is to leverage the incredible heritage, innovation, and experience at Ball to solve the unique and fast-moving challenges faced by our customers in today’s aerospace environment.

MEWhat are the key challenges and opportunities you face at present?

MG The landscape of aerospace is rapidly changing with new commercial players and budget pressures. For example, the role of National Laboratories and NASA centers has significantly changed over the years, and we are working hard to understand and find novel ways to work with them to solve some of the nation’s most pressing and difficult challenges. We also see great opportunities. For instance, technology transfer partnerships are a great way to leverage the laboratories and industry. For the JPSS-1 program, the spacecraft’s spacewire data bus was a successful technology transfer from Goddard Space Flight Center to Ball. On the James Webb Space Telescope, the course phasing algorithms for wavefront sensing and control were another fruitful technology transfer from JPL to Ball. We look to continue to exploit these technology-transfer partnerships and other opportunities that new thinking and innovation can bring to the challenges our customers face, by continuing to drive innovation, excellence, and affordability into our solutions. In many areas, the combination of our heritage coupled with leveraging new approaches makes Ball unique in our solution sets.

ME Prior to your current role, you held the post of Associate Administrator of the Space Mission Technology Directorate at NASA. What impact does your experience at a national agency have on how you approach your present position at Ball Aerospace?

MG Industry and government agencies have the common goal of solving the nation’s most difficult challenges. While serving on the government side, my focus was on framing the opportunities and leveraging the capabilities that exist in industry in combination with NASA’s incredible capabilities. This included selecting the right problems to solve to support NASA’s missions, and investing in the nation’s innovation economy. On the industry side, we are focused on addressing the opportunities and challenges of our customers (e.g. NASA, DoD, commercial) by bringing our great heritage in the space and tactical arena, our innovation, and our extensive experience across multiple platforms, sensors, services, and data analytics, to meet their current and future needs. The incredible experience at NASA helps us understand the customers’ perspectives and the challenges they face while serving the nation.

MEWhen you left NASA, you commented that the agency was “well on its way to achieving important space technology milestones that will enable our journey to Mars and beyond.” What programs and technologies does Ball Aerospace have underway that will help enable missions to Mars?

MG Exploration of Mars remains an aspirational goal for the nation and contains many difficult challenges to solve. The movie The Martian really displayed some of these challenges in such an entertaining manner. At Ball, we are already helping the nation and the world understand and explore Mars. Our HiRiSe imager continues to provide the best understanding of the planet, including surface geology, landing site identification, and finding lost spacecraft on Mars. Our sensing expertise is very relevant to understanding the conditions of Mars that future explorers will face. Our guidance, navigation and control (GNC) capabilities enable precise trajectory control. Docking is also a key challenge, and our GNC and vision navigation systems expertise and offerings (e.g. 3D Flash Lidar and pose estimation algorithms) will be essential in addressing this challenge. Similarly, last December the Mars Exploration Analysis Group released the final report of the Next Orbiter Science Analysis Group. This group of Mars science experts recommended that the next Mars orbiter be launched in 2020 and should include HiRiSE-class (or better) imaging. The report also calls out wind Lidar as a possible instrument to meet key objectives. Our Optical Autocovariance Wind Lidar (OAWL) technology may play an important role in the precise measurement of the atmospheric winds, critical to support future landings of cargo and crew.

MEWhat SSA program(s) has Ball have been involved in (past and or current)?

MG Ball built the 2010-launched Space Based Space Surveillance spacecraft and extremely agile gimbaled visible sensor, which enables the US Air Force to perform highly ac­curate determination of space objects with state-of-the-art pointing stability and agility. Additionally, Ball and Boeing continue to operate this critical system for the US Government.


ME Space weather is an important aspect of Space Situational Awareness (SSA). Does Ball play a role in this arena?

MGBall understands the importance of space weather to SSA. We are currently under contract with the Defense Weather System Directorate for production of the Ion Velocity Meter (IVM) for the US Air Force Space Situational Awareness Environmental Monitoring program. IVM will fly aboard COSMIC-2, the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate-2. The improved sensing capability afforded by the IVM aboard will contribute to the critical, long-term data continuity characterizing of space plasma. IVM measurements are important for assessing the effects of space weather on spacecraft and communications.

ME Access to space is no longer the preserve of government and military organizations. The trend toward more and more commercial players being active in LEO, not to mention the growth of mega constellations such as those planned by OneWeb and SpaceX, is increasing congestion and highlighting the importance of robust SSA capabilities. What is Ball’s position on working with government and industry to improve future space operations? And what do you think are the key technologies yet needed to more effectively manage congestion and promote peaceful utilization of space?

MG Certainly government, industry and foreign nations share the same space, and working together to share and maintain this space is critical. We all must be good stewards of this precious resource. SSA is more critical than ever. We understand the SSA challenges and are working with our government and industrial partners to address them.

We are bringing innovative solutions (e.g., large to small, agile spacecraft) coupled with our heritage in space sensing (e.g., extremely high-accuracy star trackers, state-of-the-art sensor and target modeling tools and characterization algorithms) to help our customers. The classic disciplines of pointing, tracking, and high-quality imaging are very important. Furthermore, resiliency in our highly valued space offerings also plays an important role in today’s space operations. Tomorrow’s space assets will have the technological ability to understand what’s around them and the ability to safely mitigate anomalies and challenges. These new technological capabilities will not only track the position and orbit of space objects, but will be able to characterize them (e.g. spectrally) under the conditions where the space objects are unresolved. Ultimately, we need key technologies to determine capabilities of the space objects we identify (e.g. through proximity operations or signal intelligence), the owners of those objects, and the intentions of the owners. Additionally, technologies to safely deorbit space objects are important.

MEWe’re looking forward to seeing you at the Space Tech Conference; can you tell us what you’re most looking forward to at the show?

MG As the space arena continues to change rapidly, I look forward to hearing the latest trends and updates on a variety of important topics such as innovations in space situational awareness, ground systems, debris removal, and space capability innovations. Moreover, I look forward to catching up with colleagues from all areas of the space community.

You can hear more from Michael Gazarik at 9:30am | May 25, 2016

Keynote Panel: Commercial, Government and Military Collaboration on Space Situational Awareness

About Space Tech Expo

America’s meeting place for space and defense technology returns to California for three days of knowledge sharing and networking alongside the largest supply chain exhibition of its kind.

With capabilities ranging from cryogenics, laser systems, materials, nanotechnology, imaging, environmental test, motion simulation, magnetics, capacitors, spacewire, NDT, and connectors through to electroforming, engineering services, precision machining, 3D printers, ground systems, mission management, and reconnaissance satellites, Space Tech Expo 2016 will bring a multitude of networking opportunities through focused receptions and events for attendees and exhibitors throughout the commercial, civil and military space supply chain. http://www.spacetechexpo.com/

Register for a free expo pass here >> https://registration.n200.com/survey/24id37gyd50ty/register

About Space Tech Conference

The Space Tech Conference agenda will examine how military and government organizations can deliver space missions by working closely with the commercial sector to leverage the latest innovative technologies and business models. The conference also takes a deep dive into the rapidly evolving space-to-space market and offers specific sessions examining the plethora of on-orbit services and technologies emerging.

On May 26, Space Tech Expo is delighted to host the free-to-attend Gov/Mil/Prime Requirements Day. The session will be held in the exhibition hall, allowing all attendees to participate and hear the upcoming space supply chain requirements of government and military organizations, as well as major prime contractors.

Key topics for 2016:

• Commercial, defence and new space – the inflection point

• Launch market trends – reusability and affordability

• Simplifying and improving ground systems architecture

• Commercialising new technologies

• Driving innovation with new space players

• Cross-sector collaboration in space situational awareness

• Enabling space-to-space commerce and on-orbit services

Book a conference pass here (prices start at $395) >> http://www.spacetechexpo.com/conference/conference-agenda


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