Engineers Imagine Tomorrow
February 21, 2021
By Natasha Nguyen & Kaitlin Engelbert
When you were a kid, how did you imagine the future? Many people thought that we would have flying cars or live underwater. While we’re not there yet, we strive towards a better, safer, more informed and more productive world every day. As we celebrate Engineers Week 2021 (#EWeek2021), it’s the perfect time to celebrate some of our programs that will change the world for the better.
Our people, powered by an endless curiosity, dream up and create solutions and new ways of thinking that propel our progress forward. At Ball, we’re creating innovative space and tactical solutions, providing actionable data and intelligence, and driving insightful observations of our planet and universe. It all starts with a vision to make the world a better place—and that vision starts with our people.
ENGINEERING FOR SPACE
IMAGING X-RAY POLARIMETRY EXPLORER (IXPE)
One innovative space solution Ball engineers, technicians and scientists are working on is IXPE. IXPE will be the first space-based astrophysics observatory dedicated to observing extreme celestial objects, such as polarized X-rays from neutron stars, stellar and super massive black holes.
“I am proud to work for a company that brings out-of-this-world NASA dreams to life. Engineering is interesting in any application and being a part of the innovative study of supermassive black holes and neutron stars is stellar by every definition of the word,” said Christina Pentz, Ball senior structural engineer. “The opportunity to work across engineering disciplines to pull together the structural analysis for an inspiring and innovative NASA Explorer program like IXPE has been incredibly challenging yet also very rewarding.”
ENGINEERING FOR THE DIGITAL AGE
AGILE CLOUD PROCESSING CAPABILITIES
Data processing solutions are also a focus for Ball engineers. Ball collaborated with Microsoft to imagine how we might process massive amounts of data from a constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites around the planet, a prototype effort facilitated by the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) demonstrating agile cloud processing capabilities in support of the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center Commercially Augmented Space Inter Networked Operations (CASINO) project.
“The challenge with CASINO was in developing an architecture that was widely scalable, broadly extensible and performant; demonstrating that large data at scale could be processed in near real time in the cloud,” said Jeff Richards, the Ball lead for the CASINO development team. “Using a combination of managed Azure services and auto-scaling Kubernetes infrastructure, we were able demonstrate what a future large scale flexile processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) system could look like, capture expected data latencies, and identify risk areas or potential bottlenecks in a planned future production system.”
The novel prototype ultimately showed how hundreds of data streams from space can be processed simultaneously and rapidly.
ENGINEERING FOR SUSTAINABILITY
The Landsat series of satellites has enabled the nation to manage its natural resources more effectively, aiding everything from drought assessments, fire prevention and land change monitoring.
The Ball-built Operational Land Imager (OLI-1) instrument was integrated onto the Landsat 8 satellite, which launched in 2013. Now, our OLI-2 will be integrated onto Landsat 9 and launched later this year. These instruments are significant advancements in Landsat sensor technology by helping provide better land surface information with fewer moving parts and making it possible to image the entire Earth every 16 days.
“The people who worked OLI-1 have the knowledge of what went right and what could be improved on during the build and test of OLI-2,” said Leonard Lindgren, Ball hardware manager and current OLI-2 program manager. “The new team members brought a new perspective that made the team revisit past OLI decisions that led to some process and testing tweaks that likely would not have occurred otherwise. Thanks to this diversity of experience, we were able to drive innovation, and have ‘what went well,’ and ‘even better if’ conversations that can help spark new ideas and solutions.”
Creating technologies that will change the future for the better takes brilliant people who have a vision to make the world a better place. This week for Engineers Week, we want to say a gracious thank you to all our incredible engineers, technical staff, and all who support our programs and capabilities. Let’s keep imagining tomorrow and make it a reality together.