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RNASA Foundation Honors Stellar Space Performers

Capt. Gina Peterson, Global Positioning Systems Wing, is the recipient of an individual award from the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation for her work on the atomic clocks that will be aboard the next generation of GPS III satellites. (Courtesy photo)

Capt. Gina Peterson, Global Positioning Systems Wing, is the recipient of an individual award from the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation for her work on the atomic clocks that will be aboard the next generation of GPS III satellites. (Courtesy photo)

David Hess, director of the DoD Space Test Program’s Human Space Flight Payloads Office, and Dr. Perry Ballard, payload manager for the DoD Space Test Program, accept a team award for the development of the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System. The Information gleaned from the imager, can spot navigational hazards, unusual sea floor characteristics, water properties and underwater terrain. (Courtesy photo)

David Hess, director of the DoD Space Test Program’s Human Space Flight Payloads Office, and Dr. Perry Ballard, payload manager for the DoD Space Test Program, accept a team award for the development of the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System. The Information gleaned from the imager, can spot navigational hazards, unusual sea floor characteristics, water properties and underwater terrain. (Courtesy photo)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation recognized outstanding individual and team achievements in space April 30 in Houston, Texas, presenting the prestigious Stellar Award to top performers in government, the military and the aerospace industry.

The foundation honored Capt. Gina Peterson, Global Positioning Systems Wing, and the DoD Space Test Program HICO- RAIDS (DoD Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System) experiment payload team for their groundbreaking work. The 14-member HICO-RAIDS team is assigned to the Space Development and Test Wing at Kirtland AFB, N. M., working from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Peterson was one of only six winners out of 32 nominees in the early career category. The HICO-RAIDS team competed with 33 other teams and was one of just six to be recognized in the team category, and has the distinction of being the sole Air Force and DoD team selected for the award.

"The Stellar Award winners represent the very best of the thousands of people working in our space program," said Dr. K. Megan McArthur, a NASA astronaut and award presenter. "We can truly be proud of all the Stellar Award nominees for they are all winners and give us hope for the future."

A Stellar Awards evaluation panel reviewed nominations and selected winners who are "unsung heroes," hold the "greatest promise for furthering future activities in space," and played a key role in the space-related accomplishment outlined in the nomination write up.

Peterson was chosen because of her "extraordinary leadership," guiding significant improvements to the nation's space-based atomic clock industrial base and the design of the GPS III satellite payload, according to the RNASA Foundation. She worked as the lead engineer for the GPS clock working group, which included GPSW members, Aerospace, the U. S. Naval Observatory, the Naval Research Lab, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"I'm excited to see that we got to this design point," Peterson said, referring to the recent completion of the GPS III atomic clock critical design review. "The clocks are a very small part of the satellites, but are critical."

Comparing the intricate timepieces to an "art form," Peterson explained that each clock contains a hand-blown glass lamp. The clock is enclosed in a case about the size of an average shoebox, and the whole package weighs less than 20 pounds. Each GPS satellite holds three to four of these clocks.

GPS atomic clocks are known to be the most accurate and the "best in the world," Peterson said. They allow each satellite to continuously broadcast a digital radio signal that includes both its own position and the time, exact to a billionth of a second. This allows GPS users to receive "accurate position data" quickly, Peterson said.

In the past four years, Peterson and her team have worked with a long-standing clock manufacturer to make design improvements, replace older parts and improve the overall manufacturing process.

The changes will "improve signals on the GPS III satellites for everyone," she said. Peterson's work has contributed to the development of the GPS III clock payload. The new design is expected to provide time and navigation services to the world for the next 30 years.

The HICO-RAIDS team is also making cutting-edge advancements in space. The 14-member group led the way in integrating and preparing the first major Earth-observing payload on the International Space Station. This was also the first U. S. science payload to fly on a Japanese HII-B rocket and be deployed and operate on the Japanese Experiment Module -Exposed Facility. They ensured the payload was structurally sound, safe and met all of the requirements to function properly in space.

"It was nothing short of miraculous" that everything from launch integration to the final stage of robotically transferring the payload from one vehicle to another worked so well, said David Hess, director of the DoD Human Space Flight Payloads Office of the DoD STP. "I believe that this team not only proved the ability to work together within various cultures, disciplines, and with multiple foreign and domestic government agencies, but proved a future capability."

Although the team faced many challenges, including a 14-hour time difference between the U.S. and Japan and a language barrier, they were able to overcome all obstacles and succeed, Hess said. The DoD STP team worked alongside the Department of State, NASA, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Naval Research Laboratory, Aerospace Corporation and the Office of Naval Research.

"The RNASA Stellar Team Award is a great honor for the men and women of the DoD Space Test Program," said Col. Steve Hargis, director of the DoD STP. "It recognized the team's can-do attitude and outstanding ingenuity..."

The result of this extensive teamwork across the world was the deployment of two separate experiments connected to the ISS that will deliver brand-new insights unlike anything seen before about the ocean and the atmosphere.

Information gleaned from the hyperspectral imager, a type of camera looking down at the ocean, is proving to be critical to the U. S. Navy's day-to-day operations, Hess said. It can spot navigational hazards, unusual sea floor characteristics, water properties and overall underwater terrain.

The hyperspectral imager "divides light into different frequencies, taking a picture of all of the shades (of the ocean) at a time," said Craig Lamb, deputy director of the DoD Human Space Flight Payloads Office at the DoD STP. These shades can then be broken down "one slice of color" at a time, to reveal multiple layers of the ocean that can include water depth, silt, coral reefs and sand bars.

Most recently, the imagery relayed significant information on changes to the ocean beneath the surface in the waters surrounding Haiti after the massive earthquake and effects of the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.

Other critical knowledge has been gained because of the Remote Atmospheric and Ionospheric Detection System, also known as RAIDS. As the HICO looks down at the ocean, the RAIDS images the horizon and above, characterizing the thermosphere and ionosphere. It collects data on the composition and temperature of these regions of the atmosphere, which will be used to test new techniques for remote sensing and look for signs of "global change."

Understanding how the ionosphere behaves is critical to predicting how radio frequency waves, such as GPS signals, are impacted as they travel through disturbances in the upper atmosphere, Lamb said.

The team expects RAIDS to be the most comprehensive survey of the ionosphere and thermosphere in more than 20 years.

"...Thanks to their (team) efforts, we now have increased knowledge of water in and around coastal regions of the world through hyperspectral imagery and of the ionosphere through the RAIDS experiment," Hargis said.