AEDC physicist shares his views of the future of space

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Dustin Crider, Manchester resident and physicist in Aerospace Testing Alliance's (ATA) Technology and Analysis branch, wasn't even a gleam in his parents' eye when Neil Armstrong muttered those famous words as he stepped onto the moon's surface in 1969.

But, it's a moment that inspired Crider to become involved in space. In 2008, Crider has the opportunity to work on future explorations of space.

"I guess I have always been interested in science and space," he said. "I can remember when I was young and the Hubble Telescope launched into orbit. I thought it was pretty cool."

Graduating from Murray State University in 2002, Crider started working at Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) shortly thereafter.

Crider said the physics department chair, Steve Cobb, had worked at AEDC for a few summers and that is how he came to work at AEDC.

"It definitely helps if you know someone that works here or have a mentor because it can be overwhelm¬ing right out of college," he said. "You only learn the classroom and text book stuff in college. It really takes someone showing you the ropes and getting the hands on experience that makes the job understandable."

In the six years he's worked here, Crider has worked on the center's space chamber research lab's Char¬acterization of Combined Orbital Surface Effects (CCOSE).

Tests conducted on the CCOSE system involve subjecting a solar cell and a sample of thermal control paint to conditions that are found in space. The Earth's atmosphere can damage components on the outer surface of satellites and other spacecraft orbiting Earth or transitioning through the so¬lar system. Components such as solar cells, thermal control surfaces and optics require a clean environment to operate and function properly.

"Even small amounts of contamination, solar radia¬tion or atomic oxygen can seriously degrade the perfor¬mance of these components and has caused multiple spacecraft (system) failures over the years," Crider ex¬plained. "The more frequent problems we encounter in space are often due to a com¬bination of these factors or what's known as a synergis¬tic effect."

According to Crider, the chamber was designed, built and demonstrated to simu¬late low Earth orbit, where the space shuttle and Inter¬national Space Station orbit. The simulation range has been expanded to include geosynchronous Earth orbit where satellite TV and weather satellites orbit. In addition, the chamber can simulate, in a condensed period of time, the long-term effects the space environment will have on satellite hardware.

He also spends some time working in the 7-foot vacu¬um space chamber working on wide-field of view sen¬sors.

"When I first got here, many of the sensors tested in the chamber had a narrow field of view since they were looking at objects from great distances," he said. "But now here lately, we have been testing sensors with much larger field-of-views that can see an entire side of the Earth from space."

When asked if he thought there will be a need for test¬ing space missions in the future Crider admitted he felt there would be a need.

"New materials and com¬ponents for space are al¬ways being developed, for instance the big thing now is thin film solar cells," he explained. "Instead of hav¬ing a huge array that carries a significant weight, they are developing this thin film that is light and flexible. The military will continue to use satellites for communica¬tion and they are always doing more and more stuff in space."