Profile: A Perfect Vision for Hubble
Jim Crocker, Vice President of Sensing and Exploration Systems, Lockheed Martin Space Systems
Jim Crocker has a dual interest in the successful completion of the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. In| the early 1990s, as director of advanced programs at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Crocker helped devise a two-instrument solution to fix Hubble’s defective main mirror. Since joining Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems in 2002, Crocker has been responsible for support work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center that includes operating the Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft and training astronauts to install new instruments.
“I was at the right place at the right time when we were trying to figure out how to fix the spherical aberration on Hubble,” said Crocker. “I get credit for it but it was a large team of people who went through thousands of ideas until we found a way to do the corrective optics on Hubble with COSTAR [Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement] and the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 replacement.”
Lockheed Martin also is building the near-infrared camera for Hubble’s eventual replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope, but Crocker says it will be hard to compare that mission to Hubble, which “always will be the first.”
While Hubble has been a major focus, other key missions for Crocker’s unit this year have included the installation of the Lockheed-built solar arrays to complete the U.S. portion of the international space station. Lockheed also is looking ahead to a number of Earth science and planetary missions in the coming years as the builder of upcoming probes that will study Jupiter, Mars and the Moon’s gravity field. Lockheed Martin also has been awarded a contract to build the next-generation Geostationary-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) weather satellites following the recent dismissal of a protest by Boeing, the losing bidder.
Crocker said he believes Lockheed Martin will be well-positioned to take on more missions in support of U.S. President Barack Obama’s call for more monitoring of global climate change. He spoke recently with Space News staff writer Becky Iannotta.
How will the final Hubble servicing mission improve the telescope’s capability beyond the solution your team devised in the 1990s to correct its original optical problem?
What we did with COSTAR and the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 was in essence putting mirrors that had the opposite correction on them, sort of like having glasses. The new instruments would be more like having Lasik laser eye surgery, with the lenses themselves fabricated to correct for the aberration. COSTAR and the Wide Field Planetary Camera are coming back on this mission, and we now will have changed out all the original instruments on board Hubble with new instruments that will have had the Lasik done to them to get perfect vision.
Will the James Webb Space Telescope live up to Hubble’s legacy in terms of ground-breaking science?
We’re building the main camera for James Webb and I think Webb will do some fabulous science. It will continue Hubble’s legacy, I’m sure, but Hubble in space will be the equivalent of Galileo in the history books going forward. Webb is our next step and there will be even larger telescopes in space in the future. I think when we finally get an observatory that can take even a crude image of an Earth-like planet around another star, and we know that there’s another place to go out there, it will change the way we think about space exploration.
What do you think about NASA possibly eliminating Mars as a separate category in the National Research Council’s decadal survey of planetary missions, which effectively would put Mars in competition with other exploration destinations?
I guess I have mixed feelings about it. Until you see what the total picture is of what they’re trying to do, you hear one little piece of it and it’s difficult to understand what they’re talking about.
We’ve only in the past decade or two started understanding how dynamic Mars is. With the apparent discovery of liquid water on Mars and the potential that opens up, to start backing off from Mars exploration is a little disconcerting. Our whole theme of Mars has been to follow the water, and now that we’ve found the possibility of liquid water, the probability of finding life just had to have gone up.
The other thing you have to look at is how Mars research might fit into the whole idea of human space exploration. If Mars is a destination for humans, you could imagine that you might focus more of your exploration activities in understanding not just the science but the environment.
Will Lockheed Martin’s focus shift more toward Earth science missions in response to President Obama making that a national priority?
We’ve been heavily involved in this area for decades. We have people in the company who have been working on the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA for more than 40 years, so it was music to a lot of people’s ears when we heard the administration was going to up the focus in this area. We launched the very first high-resolution weather satellite in 1960 and we’ve had continuous presence with Television Infrared Observation Satellites, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite instruments since then.
What advancements will be provided by the new GOES-R weather satellites Lockheed is building for NASA and NOAA?
It’s multidimensional – from the amount of data, the time you can get data back in as well as spectral coverage. Everything is expanded and improved. One of the things that struck me is the capability of the Global Lightning Mapper. Two features of the Global Lightning Mapper are a great example of the breadth that each of the instruments will bring. With severe weather warning today you might get five or six minutes warning for a tornado. With the new satellites you can push that up to 20 minutes. The lightning mapping over the North Atlantic will be improved considerably because we will have near real-time warning for aircraft transiting that area, where now we do not have a good mapping system. Those are just two examples, and you can take each of these improvements and map it directly to benefits and you start to see the power of the system and why it’s needed.
How is Lockheed Martin sizing up the upcoming opportunities in NASA’s Discovery and New Frontiers series of planetary missions?
We’ve been working with principal investigators and centers on both New Frontiers and Discovery missions. I think sometimes when there’s a delay like there has been with these announcements of opportunity there’s even more pent up enthusiasm. In the Discovery area, the one thing that’s new this time is the potential to possibly fly the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator. The stirling generator uses about one-fourth the fuel you need for one of the older radioisotope thermal electric generators. There are some really exciting missions that without the ability to have a power system like this, you just couldn’t do. If you calculated by volume you could not explore about 90 percent of our solar system without some sort of radioisotope, some non-solar, power system.
Is there an adequate plutonium supply for the radioisotope generators?
That’s always an issue that’s raised. We have a limited supply and it’s used by other areas of the government as well. My understanding is right now the supply is adequate to do the missions we have on the books.
Do you think the industry can get the right message to the Obama administration to win support for funding space exploration?
It’s like Hubble, when you’ve got something that’s really working and you’ve effectively communicated it, I think it builds on its own momentum. I think all of us, NASA, NOAA, industry and the press that covers us, have to spend a little more time looking out and talking out rather than circling the wagons and shooting in. What we all do together is phenomenal.