Packaging and Deployment of Boeing Satellites with Engineer Keith Watts


What does it take to solve problems, help others, and improve the world around you? Curiosity? Creativity? Persistence? What it takes…are the skills of an engineer. Hello, my name is Keith Watts and I’m a satellite engineer working at Boeing satellite systems. As a child, Keith was inspired by the new era of space exploration. And now, as a Boeing engineer, he is helping satellites in space operate at their highest level. As a child, what sparked my interest in science and engineering was probably the whole era of Apollo. I grew up here in the 60’s when it was Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. So all this stuff was going on with the space program and it was very interesting. In order to design, build and launch a satellite into space you need an entire team of engineers all working together to achieve a single goal. Right now, I’m working on what’s called a mechanical systems engineer. Where I don’t actually do direct design of the satellite anymore, the satellite has been designed. A lot of it has to do with deployments and any issues that come up. If we break something or if a hole is mis-drilled, we have to come up with a repair. Keith’s role on the engineering team is not only to make sure the satellite can work successfully in space… but also to solve problems before it even is launched from Earth. The launch vehicle can only carry so much weight. And so weight becomes very expensive and very important. And so we have to keep everything light weight. And… with weight is strength. And so it’s important to understand that a satellite, it’s very complex and it’s also very delicate. To fit on top of a rocket, a satellite must be packaged very precisely, with no room to spare. This means folding up the solar arrays, antenna and other keys parts so that they fit perfectly, but can also spread out in the correct orientation once the satellite reaches space. When it gets on orbit, the satellite wants to be very large, generally because it has to have solar wings out there to get sunlight and pick up all this energy. So we have to figure out how to fold everything up to fit inside that cylinder inside of the rocket and that’s the packaging. And that gets very interesting, because then you have to have all these little mechanisms. You have to have hinges. You have to have pyrotechnics, which are basically exploding devices that deploy these appendages. In space, each precisely fit together part like the two solar arrays must open up and spread out in order to work. Think of flipping a latch to open a door! Engineers must design similar mechanisms that can work in the zero gravity environment of space. Like flexible hinges that open and exploding devices that release the solar array wings. As time went on, customers started asking for more power. So, that’s where we went to these large flat arrays that we have now and these things actually track the sun. And as the satellite goes around the earth, the solar array will actually track the sun as it goes around. That’s where it picks up all its energy. In order to provide more energy efficient satellites for the future, engineers, like Keith at Boeing, are using their curiosity to explore new ideas and creativity to design new solutions. Ready to design, package and deploy your own satellite? Start building and learning with science explorers on the Curiosity Machine!

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