Stephanie K. has been working for Sierra Space for less than a year, but in the time she’s been with the company, she’s turned two of our Dream Chaser® spaceplane labs into world class facilities that rival outside firms. At least according to leadership. Stephanie is a bit more humble. In our conversation with her, we’re learning why these labs are so crucial to Dream Chaser missions, how she’s making them world class, plus, the creative balance to her technical career that she pursues outside of the office.
You haven’t worked at Sierra Space very long, but have already made a huge impact in the Vehicle Avionics Integration Laboratory (VAIL) and Flight Controls Integration Laboratory (FCIL) labs. Can you explain your process?
When I first started 10 months ago, I evaluated the state of operations, created a user feedback system, identified relevant program milestones and looked for gaps and risks. From those inputs, I identified focused and impactful improvement goals to get us where we needed to be. As a lab team we tasked out and established time frames for executing those goals, and then we all got to work. Rinse and repeat, all the way to space!
What is one thing you want a visitor to take away during a tour of the VAIL/FCIL labs?
I want visitors to feel excitement for the progress we’ve made and the dedicated work that’s being done in the labs to bring Dream Chaser to life!
What kind of work is being done in the labs and why are they so crucial to Dream Chaser missions?
VAIL/FCIL is where the pieces come together for the first time. We take flight computers, avionics boxes, power systems and mechanical systems and put them through the paces on the ground to understand interactions of the system. VAIL supports real-time development and test of flight software on hardware-in-the-loop racks. FCIL is where functionality and performance testing of the flight actuators occurs. ~*We’re kind of a big deal*~.
Can you explain what your day-to-day in the labs looks like?
There is never a dull moment in the labs! Each day is dynamic and challenging. My typical tasks include working through test details with lab users, doing safety evaluations, writing standard operating procedures, overseeing shipping and receiving of critical hardware, guiding lab improvements, and on top of it all managing budget, staff and schedule to get the job done.
What’s your favorite part of working for Sierra Space?
I have two favorites: the mission and the people.
During a scroll through of your LinkedIn, I saw you were a blues dancing Instructor at CU Boulder. What is Blues Dancing? How did you get involved in that type of activity and do you still dance?
Blues dancing is a generic term for dancing to blues music, either solo or with a partner. The dance style is historically rooted in African-American tradition, and continues to evolve while continuing those aesthetics. I started swing dancing in high school, switched to blues through college and grad school, and even met my other half dancing in Denver! It’s been a life-long passion, and a great creative balance to a technical career path.
Did you always see yourself working in aerospace?
I’ve always seen myself doing great things, and I can’t think of anything greater than building a spaceplane.
If you could go to space with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
My husband, who always dreamed of being astronaut. He would geek out about it just as hard as I would.
What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
Hike and climb mountains with family.