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Online From Jupiter 97

Gregory R. LaBorde

 a photo of Gregory LaBorde

What's he doing now? (1997)

Greg is currently a systems engineer for Cassini.

What was he doing during the original OFJ project? (1995-96)

Systems Engineer/Test Conductor

My Field Journals

I am part of the Galileo Orbiter Engineering Team (OET) in the Testbed group. After Galileo's launch in 1989, engineers and technicians assembled Galileo flight spare and engineering model (development units that are very similar to the final flight hardware) electronics into a "Testbed" that, electronically anyway, looks like the real spacecraft. I am sure there is a historical and funny story about why such a thing is called a "testbed." If you hear it, please share it with me.

The Galileo Testbed is used to test out new software, commands, and sequences on the ground before transmitting them to the spacecraft. It's main components are Galileo's main computer (known as the Command and Data Subsystem, CDS), tape recorder (the Data Management Subsystem, DMS), and the spacecraft's "autopilot" (the Attitude and Articulation Control Subsystem, or AACS). A simulator stimulates the AACS with signals to make it "believe" it is actually flying in outer space, including a lightbulb which plays the part of the Sun (it even has a backup. We cannot allow the Sun to go out, after all...) and an LED "star-field" to make the Star Scanner see stars. A complete Mission Ground Data System (MGDS) lets us see what the testbed is doing via the same telemetry available in flight, although at a higher datarate (1200 bits per second, compared to 8-160 bps from the spacecraft).

We can also attach other science instruments and spacecraft subsystems (again spares and engineering units) for special testing. The "visible light" camera (the Solid State Imaging instrument, or SSI) is a very regular part of Testbed testing. Flight software is loaded into the electronics for testing of software changes, commands, sequences (programs), and simulating spacecraft activities. The only thing missing from the Testbed is the Radio Frequency Subsystem, which on the spacecraft manages the conversion from radio signals to bits the computers can understand and vice-versa. In the Galileo Testbed, the bits are exchanged directly between our command system and the "spacecraft" over wires. We also see "into" the hardware with special equipment via test points designed for ground test operations. On the real spacecraft these were disconnected at the completion of the last ground test.

In addition to my primary job as TC, I have also been the "System Lead" for some spacecraft activities. I led the Probe Release Team, performing activities similar to that for a test, but this time for the real spacecraft! I am also assigned to lead the flight software load activity that will take place sometime next year. And I do stints in the Mission Support Area (the control room) during periods of high activity.

I was always interested in science and technology as a child, especially space. I spent my childhood in South East Asia, where there was little television. I read a lot of books. When we moved to the United States (I was ten years old), I could not get enough of Star Trek. This was the OLD show with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock... I think it made me believe that a spacefaring life was truly possible.

I studied Physics and Electrical Engineering at Rice University in Houston, Texas, finishing with a BA in Physics and a Master's in Electrical Engineering. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished school. When offered a job at JPL, I jumped at the opportunity because it promised an avenue that was not Defense-related. Unlike most of my engineer friends who went to work on top-secret projects, I could actually TALK about what I was doing. I started in Reliability and Quality Assurance on Galileo (and later other Projects), which gave me a broad exposure to all the different activities it takes to build space hardware. Then, after seven years, with no prior Operations experience, I applied for and won this job. I think it is because I had demonstrated that I am a quick learner, able to grasp "the big picture," thorough, and have the team skills required to accomplish a test. The most satisfying moment in my career so far was watching the Doppler trace on a screen indicate a shift in Galileo's transmitter frequency showing that the Probe had been released.

I enjoy ham radio (my call is KD6MSM) and maps. I primarily work "packet radio," which is a digital mode using my computer and a modem that also controls my VHF radio. My latest acquisition is a GPS receiver, a fascinating piece of equipment. I can combine these three interests on short hikes in our local San Gabriel Mountains using APRS, a system that combines ham radio and a GPS receiver to track my path on computerized maps! Am I lucky to live in America in the 1990's or what?

I publicize Galileo's activities over the worldwide amateur radio digital packet network. My wife Kristy also works at JPL, ensuring that Projects are supplied with high-quality electronic parts to meet their requirements (including schedule). Since a spacecraft is mostly a pile of electronic components (resistors, capacitors, integrated circuits, etc.), this is VERY IMPORTANT. My four-year-old son, Nicholas, recognizes Galileo and the Probe, and knows which bright star in the night sky is Jupiter. My one-year-old, Christopher, thinks just about anything is cool.

 

 
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