Trailblazer of the Week

Mike Skeen

18 December 2020

Mike Skeen, Lunar Trailblazer’s Spacecraft Electrical Systems Engineer and Fault Protection Lead, enjoys seeing how the many pieces of the mission—hardware, software, people, plans, procedures, analyses—come together to turn the mission from an idea into reality.

“As part of the systems engineering team I get to be involved in many parts of the mission,” says Skeen. “I really enjoy seeing how the pieces of the puzzle come together and accomplish groundbreaking science!”

As the fault protection lead, Skeen is part of the spacecraft team at Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado. Skeen is focused on the electrical interfaces of all the components on the spacecraft, “ensuring they play nicely together.” He also models how the spacecraft generates and uses electrical power to make sure it can operate the mission profile successfully.

“The fault protection part of my job includes working with all of the various elements on the mission to understand what might go wrong and designing autonomous logic so that the spacecraft’s flight software can mitigate adverse effects,” explains Skeen. “I wear several "hats" as part of a small team, and so every day is often something new. My day mostly consists of collaborative meetings with the team to work out elements of the design, and time spent on my own tracking down information, working on designs, and building analysis tools. Occasionally, I get to go down to the lab to work with some hardware.”

Aerospace engineering and flight have always been a life-long fascination for Skeen.

“I remember flying in a small airplane in the Young Eagles program and being enthralled with the physics that makes airplanes fly,” he says.

Skeen studied aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he worked in a lab funded by the Colorado Space Grant NASA program. It was transformative to be directly immersed in that setting and already working on a spacecraft as a student.

“I worked on a satellite resembling a disco ball that launched to low-Earth orbit to study the weather patterns in the outermost regions of the atmosphere,” says Skeen. “Getting hands-on experience building an actual spacecraft in college led me to realize that working in and contributing to the aerospace industry was actually within reach, more accessible than just watching documentaries or reading stories.”

Skeen was also fortunate to intern at Lockheed Martin and was later hired to support their OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission. These undergraduate experiences gave him an important perspective as he embarked on his career.

“Keep building your network and share your enthusiasm for the things you are passionate about,” says Skeen. “In my experience, scientists and engineers are more than happy to talk about what they are working on. Even if they don’t have an opportunity to join their project at the moment, they may have an opportunity or connection in the future. I got involved working with spacecraft in college and fell in love with space exploration.”

Born and raised in Denver, Skeen also loves taking to the slopes.

“I’ve been skiing since shortly after I could walk, and love to get out on skis as much as I can during the winter, especially when the snow is good!” he says.

Like many others on the Trailblazer team, Skeen finds the ability to contribute to scientific discoveries about the nature and origin of our solar system incredibly fulfilling. He’s also impressed by how a Class "D" NASA mission like Lunar Trailblazer aims to significantly cut costs by taking on a little additional risk while still maintaining high quality science.

“As a result, we focus on solving the biggest technical issues and move quickly in our development process,” says Skeen. “It’s an exciting pace and rewarding to see how far we’ve come in a short time!”

As a SIMPLEx mission, Skeen believes Lunar Trailblazer’s mission to map lunar water is paving the way for missions that can perform top-notch science at a fraction of the cost.

“Water on the Moon is an incredibly valuable resource,” he says. “Water has all sorts of possible uses for lunar colonies, including creating rocket fuel depots for launching missions further into the solar system. Trailblazer will hopefully lead to many more missions in this class and multiply the science we can do in the future!”

For now, Skeen is happy to be a part of this pioneering mission.

“I love it!” he says. “Knowing at the end of the day that I’ve played a part in exploring the solar system and enabling scientific discoveries is tremendously rewarding.”

Mike Skeen is Lunar Trailblazer’s Spacecraft Electrical Systems Engineer and Fault Protection Lead at Lockheed Martin Space and he is our 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.