Meet Made In Space Engineers for Engineers Week 2017

This year’s nationally observed Engineers Week (Feb. 19 to 25) celebrates the accomplishments of engineers and highlights their contributions and importance to society. The 2017 theme — “dream big” — is a fitting description of what goes on daily at Made In Space’s (MIS) Mountain View, Calif., office at NASA Ames Research Park, Moffett Field. There, MIS engineers are solving the challenges of how to best manufacture in space and how to unlock the enormous potential of a space economy.

Three MIS program managers — Jan Clawson, Paul Shestople and Eric Joyce, and two interns, Teddy Lee, and Howie Schulman, recently reflected on what the company has achieved in its seven years of existence, and talked about the exciting future they are working to build.

“The Additive Manufacturing Facility, which we deployed to the International Space Station in 2016, is really a foundational technology for everything we are working on,” said Shestople, who joined MIS in August 2016 and manages the company’s partnership with Lowe’s. “3D printing simplifies many challenges of off-world exploration and colonization. Our passion at MIS is enabling human colonization of other planets.”

Project Manager Paul Shestople

Shestople, who studied physics at the University of California Berkeley says, “Archinaut will enable us to manufacture satellites in space. It’s game changing technology for the satellite industry.”

His sentiment is echoed by Joyce, who joined the company in 2015 and manages the Archinaut program and related research and development efforts. Joyce says that his two most memorable days at MIS were the day the AMF payload deployed to ISS and the day the company announced its Archinaut program.

“I think we have an exciting future ahead of us,” said Joyce, who studied aerospace engineering at The Ohio State University. “It will be a long, slow and arduous push to create the manufacturing capabilities that will enable a true space economy. But, once we get there, there will be a sudden, unpredictable expansion of what’s possible in space exploration and space manufacturing.”

Project Manager Eric Joyce

Robotic technology will play a large part of that future. To stay current with the latest robotic technology, Joyce experiments at home with building his own Arduino robots; he has four such units. He says today’s engineers draw on vast skill sets to stay current on technology.

“Technological challenges can cut across multiple engineering domains,” he says. “Every day I am using aerospace, mechanical, and electrical engineering principles in my work.”

Project Manager Jan Clawson

Jan Clawson, who joined MIS in January 2013, says his educational background helped equip him with the problem-solving skills that he’s relying on as program manager. Clawson manages MIS’ Fiber program, which involves manufacturing fiber optics in space. He attended the University of Texas where he earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, and the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana where he obtained a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.

“Solid mechanics, system engineering, vibrations, fluid mechanics, and controls — we use all of it in some form in our space engineering work,” said Clawson. “In general, when we have a problem, there’s a bit of a mad scramble to try and find a similar problem that we’ve handled before, or one that we can find in literature. Standard engineering then kicks in and we brainstorm on solutions. What makes Made in Space different from other workplaces is we are continually prototyping and quickly iterating for a solution.”

Schulman, an MIS intern in his senior year at The Ohio State University, has seen dreams become a reality since his first days at the company. Early during his internship, he got to work a late-night stint in the MIS mission control room, watching as engineers performed real onboarding of an experiment taking place on the International Space Station. He too believes the company has great things ahead.

“I envision a day when the MIS orbital depot will regularly dispatch entire fleets of construction robots to build stations and bases across our solar system,” he said. “There will be swarms of manufacturing satellites, all networked and collaborating to provide our customers with kilometer-scale structures that couldn’t even exist on Earth.”

Schulman is a fan of Star Wars’ Cloud City, saying he could imagine one day living on a Venus-like planet. His MIS team members all have their favorite planets. For Shestople, it’s an unnamed planet within a few light years of the Orion Nebula. Joyce would like to live on Ceres, a dwarf planet, while Clawson prefers Titan.

Engineering Interns Howie Schulman (left) and Teddy Lee (right)

Lee, an intern in his senior year at Carnegie Mellon University, sees himself living closer to home. “I’d like to live on Earth’s Moon, and I can see it happening in my lifetime.” He also believes MIS work with fiber is exciting and will one day have a large impact on our world.

Living and working away from planet Earth — it’s a big dream shared by the engineering team at Made In Space.