Trailblazer of the Week

Bill Frazier

8 June 2020

One could say Bill Frazier was an enterprising kid.

“I had always wanted to do space systems engineering since watching the original Star Trek and reading sci-fi books as a child,” says JPL’s Frazier, who now serves as Lunar Trailblazer’s Project Systems Engineer.

While Star Trek’s fictional portrayal of human spaceflight certainly captured the glamour of exploration, systems engineers do a whole lot more than wield magnetic probes or warp engines. Frazier stands at the helm of all systems, ensuring that Trailblazer meets NASA’s staunch requirements throughout the entire systems design process. According to Lunar Trailblazer’s Principal Investigator Bethany Ehlmann, Frazier has been there every step of the way.

“Bill worked with me and our spacecraft team at Ball Aerospace on conception of the Lunar Trailblazer spacecraft,” says Ehlmann. “His critical eye for engineering systems helped make Lunar Trailblazer a winning proposal!”

After Trailblazer’s selection, Frazier led the creation of the mission’s overall system that includes an extensive, hierarchical sequence of requirements, each with its own specifications at progressively higher levels of detail. The ensuing logistical flowchart accounts for all functional and performance requirements. Once high-level science requirements were negotiated with stakeholders at NASA Headquarters, Frazier then took Trailblazer’s high-level objectives, like to “detect, discriminate, and map OH vs. H2O ice,” and took them down to the next level to create the technical orbit design, instrument spectral resolution, spacecraft pointing, and the data downlink capacity requirements.

“I need to have a reasonable understanding of the entire system, where the issues may be, who’s doing what, and be able to guide and coach the technical teams in appropriate directions,” Frazier says, noting the managerial value of his position. “This is extremely rewarding, and I always feel privileged to be working with such smart and hard-working teams. Developing and maintaining good relationships with people is also very important and satisfying.”

Ehlmann further describes how essential a project systems engineer is to a mission.

“The project systems engineer plays the role of a conductor, getting the pieces of the mission’s technical "orchestra" to work together,” she says. “Bill has worked the interfaces between the science and engineering teams and Lunar Trailblazer's subsystems.”

Lunar Trailblazer’s subsystems include the spacecraft itself, Trailblazer’s two science instruments, and the ground data system for downlinking the data and controlling the spacecraft. Since Frazier’s role supervises many branches over the course of the mission, he holds a fortunate vantage point. Early on, he evaluated the proposed orientation of Trailblazer’s instruments and spacecraft when observing the lunar surface to determine if they would be able to simultaneously avoid damage from heating by direct sunlight while achieving the observations. Ehlmann recalls how Frazier’s mission design assessment benefited the early design of Trailblazer’s flight system and operations.

“One of his most impressive contributions was illuminating early in our design, after selection, critical constraints about how the instruments and spacecraft can and cannot be oriented,” she explains. “It's a complex, 3D geometry problem that changes throughout the mission and leads to some very specific requirements on pointing, thermal control, and the concept of science operations.”

Very soon, Frazier will be rotating off the Trailblazer team and onto NASA’s Trident Discovery mission, whose goal is to conduct a fly-by mission of Triton, Neptune’s largest moon and perhaps the most distant ocean world in our solar system. Until then, Frazier will continue to wrangle Trailblazer’s subsystem level requirements, quantifying goals and details such as temperature tolerances and instrument power cycles; essential elements to making a science mission successful.

“It is very exciting, challenging and rewarding,” he says. “Finding direct evidence of water or water ice on the moon and learning the details of this from the science team will be fascinating.”

Bill Frazier is the Project Systems Engineer is the Trailblazer of the Week!

Trailblazer of the Week is an ongoing series showcasing the diversity of experience and expertise that supports the collective determination of the Lunar Trailblazer mission.

By Emily Felder
Emily Felder is a Pasadena City College student and Caltech intern working on science communication for the Lunar Trailblazer mission.