March 2008

From Dave McComas, IBEX Principal Investigator

IBEX Mission Operations Center

IBEX Mission Operations Center


Dave McComas

February was another great month for IBEX with the successful completion of all of the environmental testing for our integrated spacecraft. At this point we are basically done with all of the hardware development and testing and are basically left with the launch preparations ahead of us. As a way to further reduce any residual risk that something hidden might be wrong, we continue to add hours of operational testing, but with all the testing we've already done the chances of uncovering some new problem are becoming increasingly tiny. While things have really rolled off on the hardware side, they have ramped up into full swing on the operations front as we prepare the plans, procedures, software and systems to carry out our on-orbit operations after launch. The picture shows our launch and early operations Mission Operations Center (MOC) that we built up at Orbital Sciences Corporation this month. This is a very exciting time as the whole team looks forward to mid-July and our impending launch!

This month I would like you to meet our MOM - Dean Hawes. Ok, he's not a real Mom, but as Mission Operations Manager; sometimes he has to provide that sort of parental care and oversight for our team. Dean is responsible for leading the entire operations team and making sure that we are fully ready to operate all aspects of our spacecraft and instruments by the time of launch. We had a very good 3-day Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) covering mission ops near the end of February, and I'm delight to say that things are progressing very well. Thanks for all the hard work Dean (and the whole operations team)!

Meet the IBEX Team: Dean Hawes

By Christine Minerva, Adler Planetarium Educator

Dean Hawes, IBEX Mission Operations Manager

Dean Hawes, IBEX Mission Operations Manager

When Dean Hawes was growing up in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, he loved visiting the nearby city's museums, especially the Adler Planetarium, with its exhibits and sky shows about space. He had no idea that the museum he enjoyed would one day feature a sky show about a space mission he worked on, or that he would even work in the space science industry at all!

Today, Dean is Deputy Program Manager and Missions Operations Manager (MOM) for the IBEX mission. He works for Orbital Sciences Corporation in Washington, D.C., and joined the IBEX team in June. "I maintain the schedule and make sure that all the needed resources are in place. I also coordinate the development of the Missions Operations Center and ground segment so that everything comes together on time. Basically, my job is to ensure that everyone has what they need to do their jobs: that the facilities are ready, procedures are completed, and all parts are available," he said. Currently, Dean is coordinating the shipment of the spacecraft to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where it will be mated, or attached, to its launch vehicle and prepared for launch in July. Dean is also getting ready for the Flight Operations Review in April. "This is probably the largest milestone, aside from launch, that the mission operations team has to complete. So there is a lot of work ahead to make sure that the mission operations group can convince NASA that the mission operations plan will work and be completed on time," Dean said.

As the MOM, Dean works with engineers and scientists from all of the organizations that make up the IBEX team. Together, they develop the facilities and processes that will be used to operate the spacecraft and process the science data when the spacecraft is on orbit. "I'm lucky in that I get to work with people from all the organizations participating in the IBEX mission. This role has allowed me to be involved with every aspect of the program, and I get to see how the entire system (spacecraft and ground segment) is coming together. That part is very rewarding," he said.

Dean describes his work in the space industry as "purely accidental." Originally, Dean planned a career as a field service engineer, assembling and repairing large complex machines. "I enjoyed assembling things - taking them apart and putting them back together again - but I never saw myself as a design engineer; I was just interested in a career that would allow me to make a good living." After high school, Dean enrolled in the DeVry Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1985. After graduation, he was offered a job at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, which led him to a career in engineering design. "My career just continued in that direction from there. I enjoyed the design side more than I ever expected; I had no idea how much fun it would be," he said.

Since then, Dean has worked all over North America Chicago, Phoenix, Albuquerque, and even Juarez, Mexico - in a variety of industries including telecommunications, military weapons, scientific instruments, rockets, and satellites. "I believe that those experiences complement the projects I work on today," he said. He is grateful that he has enjoyed all of his jobs. "I consider myself to be fortunate. I just kind of fell into a career I like, and interesting jobs have just kind of presented themselves. Any hurdles I have faced are the small ones I deal with on a daily basis, and are just part of the job. I've always had the opportunity to work with great people," he said.

Still, it was a shock when he left Fermi Lab and started working in the for-profit sector. "At Fermi Lab, there were no schedules and almost no pressure. You worked on a design, and it was done when it was done. It was a very casual environment, to the point where we were allowed to wear cutoff shorts and flip-flops at the office. After Fermi Lab I started a job with GTE, which had an entirely different culture. There, I had to wear a white shirt, dark slacks, and tie. What's more, I had to work within aggressive schedules and tight budgets because they were obviously trying to make money, which surprised me. I knew it shouldn't have, but it did! The change in culture was hard to overcome, but necessary," he said.

Dean is excited to be part of the IBEX team, although he is a relatively new addition. "Being a latecomer to the team can be intimidating, but I was made to feel welcome from day one. When I first joined, I was impressed with what the team had already achieved. Because of this, it was easy to feel a sense of 'walk-in' ownership even though I wasn't one of the people who had been involved since the start of the program," he said. "It's an interesting mission with a unique set of challenges, and extremely different from anything else I've worked on so far. I'm glad to be a part of it."

Dean is looking forward to the IBEX spacecraft launch in July. "Watching a rocket go up with your satellite is probably the most exhilarating part of the job. Sitting on console in the control center and seeing it all happen is both exciting and scary all at the same time. There is always a chance that things may not go as planned and you want to be prepared to do the right thing if something does happen. But the mission operations team is doing a great job of pulling everything together so I know we'll be ready," Dean said.

Dean admires strong leaders who can turn dire situations around. "I guess someone like Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 fame falls into that category. He was able to think clearly and provide the leadership needed under extremely difficult circumstances. That mission was hit with repetitive problems, yet he was able to keep everything on an even keel while they worked through each anomaly one at a time," he said. 

He also wouldn't mind being a part of what he calls the "turning point" when the space industry will change drastically. "I'd like to believe that something will happen sometime in the future where spacecraft and launches will become much more affordable than they are now. Maybe we'll see some major technological breakthrough that will allow us to use space for something more than we do today. Maybe some form of space tourism will become commercially viable, or it will be more commonplace for a much larger community to use space as a resource. I don't know what that turning point will be, but I think it would be fun to be part of whatever it is," Dean said.

In the meantime, Dean is content to stay here on Earth with his family. "I love hiking and mountain biking. My family and I do a lot of outdoors activities together. My wife and I like going to nice restaurants in downtown D.C. We love D.C., and spend a lot of time with our kids at the zoo and the museums. We also love visiting Chicago," Dean said. The next time he comes to the Windy City, he may see a planetarium show about the IBEX mission at the Adler Planetarium!