Bethel Native Leads Development of New Space Navigation System

by | May 16, 2011 1:00pm
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Bethel native and STORRM project lead Jeanette Domber answers questions at the NASA press site.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Today’s launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour was the closest Bethel native Jeanette Domber has ever been to a moving spacecraft, but she is leading the effort to design a state-of-the-art navigation system for future space missions. 

Domber, a payload systems engineer at Colorado-based Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation, is the project leader for the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation, or, in NASA’s acronym laden parlance, STORRM.

An early version of the new system launched with Endeavour this morning and will test automated docking functions with the International Space Station. The STORRM system also can provide navigation tasks on future deep space missions NASA has planned — determining not only the distance to an object, but the shape of an object as well.

STORRM won’t be used to dock Endeavour with the space station later this week, but it will be tested on approach and during a fly-around maneuver after it undocks around Memorial Day. 

Domber says the entire system was designed and built in just over a year, 10 months ahead of most projects. It was originally designed to fly on the Orion crew module, but it can be used in other low-orbit and deep-space vehicles in development.

Domber’s interest in science and technology began in Bethel under the encouragement of her mother, who gave the voracious reader a steady supply of Isaac Asimov science fiction novels. She remembers her mother waking her up to watch the first launch of Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981. Thirty years later, she was sitting in the commander’s seat on Space Shuttle Endeavour fine tuning the STORRM system and being mindful to avoid pressing the wrong button.

“The second time the shuttle was powered down, so it was a little less nerve wracking,” she laughed.

Endeavour was delivered to NASA about a month before Domber’s graduation from Bethel High school in 1991. She credits the public schools there for helping to develop the early math and science skills she needed to succeed in the aerospace field.

“Science and math were always some of my favorite subjects in school,” Domber said, “I had some really excellent teachers in high school.”

Before developing space navigation systems, Domber worked on the last Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. Ball Aerospace built all four scientific instruments that were installed on orbit in 2009. Domber’s work involved planning the removal of old circuit boards and the installation of new ones — work that normally occurs on the ground in the controlled environment of a clean room.

“It was the first open heart surgery in space,” she said. 

Domber’s family still resides in Bethel. Her mother is a technical writer and her father once worked at Northrop Grumman designing heads-up displays for aircraft. Domber, who now resides in Colorado, says she visits Connecticut several times a year.

Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation is a subsidiary of Ball Corporation, and is acting as a subcontractor for Lockheed Martin on the STORRM project. The company boasts an exceptional record of accomplishments on its website, including the construction of the spacecraft that “comprised the Deep Impact mission to collide with comet Tempel 1, giving scientists a look into its composition and structure.”

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