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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Draper’s Fifth NASA Astronaut Prepares for International Space Station

Draper Fellow Jack Fischer joins prestigious space fellowship 

CAMBRIDGE, MA –When NASA recruits astronauts, thousands of applications come in, but only a handful are chosen. The result is an acceptance rate that’s less than 1%, making NASA far more selective than even the top colleges and universities. 

This spring, Draper will send its fifth astronaut to NASA, making the company one of the best training grounds for future astronauts. Former Draper Fellow Jack D. Fischer is scheduled to launch on his first space mission to the International Space Station this month.

Fischer was a student at MIT when he joined the Draper Fellow Program in 1996 to work on his master’s thesis. Fischer was drawn to solving a challenge, which had been around since the Sputnik launch in 1957, of tracking and determining the paths of the approximately 8,500 objects that have been placed in orbit around the Earth, including spacecraft, rocket bodies and orbital debris. He wanted to provide operational support for Earth, lunar and planetary space missions.

A U.S. Air Force colonel, Fischer was selected for NASA’s 20th astronaut class in July 2009 and completed training in 2011. He has been a Capsule Communicator and worked in the Astronaut Office supporting the ISS Operations, ISS Integration, Soyuz and Exploration teams.

Today, there are 43 active astronauts and 297 former astronauts in the United States, according to NASA. Since the Apollos missions, the Draper Fellow Program has seen five of its students become NASA astronauts. They are Ken Cameron, Greg Chamitoff, Franklin Chang-Diaz, Jack Fischer and Janice Voss.

“Jack Fischer exemplifies Draper Fellowship Alumni,” said Sheila Hemami, Director of Strategic Technical Opportunities at Draper. “Draper Fellows are individuals who excel not only technically but in leadership positions, pushing the boundaries of science and possibilities. Jack stands as a role model to our current class of 60 Draper Fellows pursuing advanced degrees in science and engineering, who will be the next generation of civilian and military technical leaders and explorers.”

Draper sponsors Fellows in a broad collection of areas in engineering and the sciences, with thesis projects of mutual interest to the student, the university faculty advisor and Draper.  This unique opportunity allows Fellows to benefit from not only their immersion in an academic research environment, but also from Draper’s deep technical knowledge, mentoring experience and world-class facilities. 

Since the 1970s, Draper has guided and supported more than 1,200 Draper Fellows, who have come from both civilian and military backgrounds and contribute all over the world in technical, corporate, government, academia and entrepreneurship sectors. Draper Fellow Alumni have gone on to serve as high-ranking members in the DoD, astronauts for NASA, leaders in industry and faculty members in engineering and the sciences. 

Recently, Draper extended its commitment to the next generation of leaders in the sciences and technology by announcing the Hertz-Draper Fellowship, with the Hertz Foundation.  

Jack Fischer is the fifth Draper Fellow to serve as a NASA Astronaut. Since the 1970s, Draper has guided and supported more than 1,200 Draper Fellows. Photo credit: NASA.
Capabilities Used
Positioning, Navigation & Timing (PNT)

Draper develops novel PN&T solutions by combining precision instrumentation, advanced hardware technology, comprehensive algorithm and software development skills, and unique infrastructure and test resources to deploy system solutions. The scope of these efforts generally focuses on guidance, navigation, and control GN&C-related needs, ranging from highly accurate, inertial solutions for (ICBMs) and inertial/stellar solutions for SLBMs, to integrated Inertial Navigation System(INS)/GPS solutions for gun-fired munitions, to multisensor configurations for soldier navigation in GPS-challenged environments. Emerging technologies under development that leverage and advance commercial technology offerings include celestial navigation (compact star cameras), inertial navigation (MEMS, cold atom sensors), precision time transfer (precision optics, chip-scale atomic clocks) and vision-based navigation (cell phone cameras, combinatorial signal processing algorithms).

Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.

Fault-Tolerant Systems

Draper has developed mission-critical fault-tolerant systems for more than four decades. These systems are deployed in space, air, and undersea platforms that require extremely high reliability to accomplish challenging missions. These solutions incorporate robust hardware and software partitioning to achieve fault detection, identification and reconfiguration. Physical redundancy or multiple, identical designs protect against random hardware failures and employ rigor in evaluating differences in computed results to achieve exact consensus, even in the presence of faults. The latest designs leverage cost-effective, multicore commercial processors to implement software-based redundancy management systems in compact single-board layouts that perform the key timing, communication, synchronization and voting algorithm functions needed to maintain seamless operation after one, two or three arbitrary faults of individual components.

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