Lenoir engineer working on world’s largest rocket
Ashley Lee, a Lenoir, native and engineer at NASA’s Marshall
Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is leading the development of an advanced simulation
framework to support the development and testing of flight software and the avionics system of the
largest, most powerful rocket ever built — NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).
The avionics system, comprised of hardware, software and operating systems, will be housed in the SLS core stage and other parts of the vehicle. The system will guide the rocket to deep space missions, like an asteroid, and, ultimately Mars.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever be working for NASA, much less leading an important project like this for the agency,” Lee said. “As a child, I always marveled at the accomplishments of NASA and viewed the engineers and scientists working here as being the smartest people on the planet. I feel honored and very fortunate to work on the SLS program and with some of the most dedicated and accomplished engineers and scientists in the world.”
The completed SLS rocket will stand 321 feet tall. The core stage will store the cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will fuel the vehicle’s four RS-25 engines and, with two, five-segment solid rocket boosters, power the rocket.
Lee is the project lead for the SLS Advanced Real Time Environment for Modeling, Integration and Simulation (ARTEMIS). Using the ARTEMIS tools, Lee’s team can create real-time launch vehicle simulations of the SLS in the Hardware-in-the Loop Simulation Lab at the Marshall Center. Those flight software simulations show how SLS will perform during prelaunch, launch and flight operations.
Lee and other engineers from NASA and the Boeing Co., the prime contractor for the SLS core stage and avionics, integrated and powered up the core stage avionics unit for its initial run, called “First Light,” in early January and have since been running numerous tests using the latest flight software. In 2015, the avionics unit will be shipped to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the core stage is being manufactured, and attached to the actual rocket.
Lee joined NASA in 2007 after serving more than 10 years on active duty in the U.S. Army. In 2002, he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of North Alabama in Florence. He received his master’s degree in IT systems and project management in 2009 from Colorado Technical University of Colorado Springs. He is an adjunct professor at the university, teaching undergraduate courses online in information systems and systems engineering.
The first flight test of the SLS is scheduled for 2017, which will feature a configuration for a 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit to test the performance of the integrated system. As the SLS evolves, it will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system to places like Mars.