How Space Exploration Launched My Rewarding Engineering Career

October 24, 2017 | Author: Terri Taylor

In an era when most girls took typing and shorthand, I took every math and science course available. I attended the University of Pittsburgh part-time as a high school senior, earning my bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in three years. In many classes, I was the only woman in a sea of men.

More than three decades later, I find myself inspired and humbled to be chosen to receive this year’s prestigious Resnik Challenger Medal for visionary innovation in space exploration from the global Society of Women Engineers (SWE). The medal honors Dr. Judith Resnik, an Electrical Engineer who served as Mission Specialist on the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle flight in 1986.

Receiving an award that commemorates such a remarkable person truly is an honor. It’s especially meaningful coming from a professional engineering organization that is unique in its advocacy of women, inspiring us to advocate for each other. Just as Dr. Resnik was a pioneer and innovator, my engineering career at Honeywell has provided opportunities – and supportive mentors and colleagues – that have allowed me to make a mark.

Following college, I spent eight years in the defense industry. As the Cold War ended, the space industry was ramping up to design and build the International Space Station. That’s how I came to Honeywell. Throughout the 1990s I worked on many mechanisms – that means rotating joints – for the space station and other satellites.

At Honeywell in Glendale, Ariz., we are known for high-precision bearing systems critical in any rotating equipment such as Control Moment Gyros (CMG), Reaction Wheel Assemblies (RWA) and mechanisms. CMGs and RWAs are used for attitude control of the spacecraft and the mechanisms that allow things like fluid flow through the thermal radiators on the Space Station while allowing rotation to minimize exposure to the sun, power and data transfer across the solar array joints that need to track the sun and for satellite antenna positioning.

As my career progressed, I took responsibility for the Honeywell bearing systems. A bearing seems to be, on the surface, a very simple object. But is actually a highly complex non-linear system. As fate would have it, I walked into that job at exactly the wrong time. Within days I found myself in the midst of an investigation of bearings in distress during ground testing. Lucky me – these bearings were needed on a project of national importance and the pressure to solve this problem was immense.

Let me take a moment to note Honeywell’s remarkable bearing systems. Since Honeywell has more than 45 years of spacecraft experience with 100 percent mission success in our bearing systems, satellite bus providers look to us for reliable and precision pointing solutions. There is Honeywell equipment on all manned space flight missions and 70 percent of all space missions.

Honeywell’s bearing suspension design and lubrication system is the beating heart of the Momentum Control System (MCS), the spinning wheel that provides gyroscopic stability – a bearing failure on the MCS means the death of the spacecraft. Without the Honeywell MCS, space exploration is not possible. Honeywell’s bearing systems have been on more than 1,600 MCS launches, always meeting mission life expectations.

As the investigation progressed, it became apparent the bearing distress was due to contamination. The problem was two-fold –how to eliminate the contamination and verify cleanliness. After three years of blood, sweat and tears – and long hours, my team developed a robust cleaning process for Honeywell’s ultra-high precision spin bearings.

But the end result was worth it: a return to the flawless performance that Honeywell requires. It also has allowed Honeywell to double the mission performance life – no small impact to the very expensive satellites in question.

Along the way, I realized our lab capabilities were not up to the task of supporting investigations of this magnitude. So piece by piece, I built what is today a world class Honeywell laboratory for forensic inspection of bearings. This is my legacy that will last long after I leave the company. Terri Taylor at Honeywell Space has become synonymous with bearings.

In my experience, no one starts out saying “I am going to do great things.” It is the uncompromising demand for high quality, the hard work and the refusal to accept failures that measure a job well done. I often advise young engineers that you will never be remembered for getting into trouble, you will be remembered for how you got out of it.

Terri Taylor

Terri Taylor

Terri Taylor is Sr. Project Engineering Manager at Honeywell’s Electronic Solutions, Spacecraft Mechanical Solutions organization in Glendale, Ariz. She is receiving the Judith Resnick Challenger Medal from the international Society of Women Engineers (SWE) for her contributions to space exploration over the last three decades, particularly for innovations in the application of spin bearing technology for attitude control systems. The award will be presented during SWE’s annual conference Oct. 26-28 in Austin, Texas.

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