For Richard Ferguson, developing solutions for complex problems has been a passion throughout his career with the BAE Systems’ Space Products and Processing team in Manassas, Va.
To survive in space, hardware must have the ability to withstand extreme environments characterized by large temperature variations and many forms of ionizing radiation. Richard and his team in Manassas make processors that power flight computers suitable for such exploration.
With more than 750 processors on over 250 satellites making up a combined 7,500 years of space operation, BAE Systems and its space team have a long history of delivering reliable products that enable a wide variety of civil, commercial, and national security space missions. In today’s power-constrained space missions, these smaller, faster and power-efficient processing chips deliver reliable and secure performance to previously unachievable space applications.
Now in his current role as the verification lead for BAE Systems’ next generation processors, Richard recalled his time as technical lead for the RAD750 processor that supported the 2012 launch and voyage of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover to the red planet. From the star-scanning navigation system to the landing now known as “seven minutes of terror”– the computers aboard the craft enable the commands that make the rover’s mission possible. Using simulations and recreating environments seen on the spacecraft, Richard and his team supported NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in real-time to help keep the Curiosity on course and communicating back to mission control.
According to Richard, the best part of his job is seeing where the products he develops are used and the missions they help make possible. “I get to go home and say, ‘See that planet in the distance? There’s a Rover roaming around on it and I’m a part of that.’ Now that’s cool.”
Since its landing, the Curiosity Rover has discovered that there was once water on Mars, drilled for samples – a first on Martian soil – and has taken and transmitted back to Earth incredible photos, all of which would have been impossible without BAE Systems’ processors and space team.
Richard summed up his passion for his job by adding that while most missions are years in the making and might not always provide immediate gratification, the scope and historical impact of the work brings a fulfillment that is lasting.