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My Day as a Flight Mechanics and Trajectory Design Engineer

May 14, 2020

Artemis I will be the first integrated mission of NASA’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) at KSC. Orion will insert into a Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO) which provides an excellent opportunity to test out Orion’s systems in a unique cislunar orbit. To understand when mission opportunities exist, a series of trajectory optimization runs are conducted using JSC’s Copernicus spacecraft trajectory optimization tool.

Amelia Batcha is a Flight Mechanics and Trajectory Design Engineer who develops/creates nominal and abort on-orbit trajectories for Artemis I. She conducts trajectory scans that find solutions that close on performance and balance margins to maximize the number of launch opportunities. She’s also training for the backroom Mission Evaluation Room (MER) position, TARGO (Trajectory, Analysis, RetarGeting and Optimization), the engineering counterpart to the Flight Dynamics Officers (FDOs).

Roundup invites you to join us as we jump into a day in the life of the Artemis generation. The timeline below reflects Amelia’s day on February 18, 2020.

6:30 am: Morning routine begins as I make the trek from inside the loop out to the NASA burbs, but is much more pleasant listening to the Moonrise podcast, today’s topic “Magnificent Desolation”

7:30 am:  Arrive at work and kick off an instrumental Pirates of the Caribbean playlist to help me focus

Mornings I spend time on my analysis before meetings hit. The flavor of this week is producing the EGS Launch and Landing Table, a summary of when the SLS/Orion stack could launch and land during a full year trajectory scan. Here we identify how long the launch window duration is, which mission classes are selected based on Orion constraints, which days violate due to unmitigated eclipsing constraints, and when Orion will splashdown in reference to sunrise/sunset due to solar geometry.

8:30 am: Tag-up with my intern on his Partial-TLI Alternate Mission case (TLI = Trans-Lunar Injection)

9:55 am: Give my cactus a drink, who’s planted in a mini Millennium Falcon

10:00 am: End-to-End Mission Performance Team (EMPT) weekly meeting with our FOD and SLS counterparts. This is an ESD integrated team that discuss various trade studies that have a performance impact to the Artemis missions

11:30 pm: Lunch hour I allocate time writing a paper with an international team of students/young professionals I met through Space Generation Congress. There were 15 countries represented on this team and we’re exploring the economic, political, and strategic advantages of a single vs multiple lunar base implementation.

12:30 pm: Orion Orbit Performance Team (OPT) weekly meeting with our fellow Lockheed Mission Analysis folks and the FDOs. We discuss a contingency case: what happens if Orion misses its nominally targeted burn, the Return Powered Flyby (RPF), Orion’s last major burn around the Moon before coming back to Earth

2:45 pm: Brief EG staff meeting about the Early Career Strategic Workforce Report (holler at me if you want a copy)

3:00 pm: Continue analysis, insert ULA trajectory targets into our trajectory automation tool DAMOCLES (backronym, don’t ask) to verify that Orion can converge on a solution. This is a part of the End-to-End trajectory design, as we stitch together trajectories from different phases of flight: ascent, in-space, and entry

4:00 pm: Discussion snowballed into an impromptu whiteboard tag-up, as my coworkers and I discuss different techniques of how inclining the DRO brings Orion out of an eclipse

5:00 pm: A grueling evening commute as I catch up with my PA family/friends

6:15 pm: Volunteer at Theology on Tap (ToT), an event where philosophers, theologians, and scientists duke out their stance on a topic over local craft beer

9:00 pm: In the evenings I moonlight as a distant learning student at Purdue University pursing a Masters in Aeronautics and Astronautics. Currently learning about Agent Based Modeling (ABM) techniques to predict emergent behavior of a system.  

Amelia Batcha is a Flight Mechanics and Trajectory Design Engineer. This story is part five in the series A Day in the Life: The Artemis Generation, highlighting team members at Johnson who are leading NASA to the Moon and exemplifying the center vision of Dare. Unite. Explore. If you know someone making giant leaps on site, feel free to recommend them for the series by emailing 

Amelia Batcha, Flight Mechanics and Trajectory Design Engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Amelia Batcha, Flight Mechanics and Trajectory Design Engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center.