Redirecting a 525-foot asteroid with a spacecraft traveling at 14,000 mph is a mighty thing, and Dmitri Becker was one of the engineers who made it happen.
Baker ’07 BS/MS (Computer Engineering) is part of the DART – Double Asteroid Redirect Test team that impacted asteroid Dimorphos on September 26. Its mission was to test asteroid deflection technology – a means of protecting Earth by changing the speed and trajectory of an asteroid.
“This was a test of planetary defense technology. We collected data from this impact so we would have a better idea of what to do in the future,” said Baker, an embedded systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL). planet at any time.” The laboratory is one of NASA’s partners in the development of technology and scientific instruments for space missions.
Last fall, NASA launched the DART spacecraft built at JHUAPL. DART heads towards the Didymos asteroid system millions of miles from Earth, where it encounters the moonlet Dimorphos. While this asteroid posed no threat to Earth, it was chosen to measure how the small moon’s orbit would change due to the spacecraft’s impact. NASA predicts an orbital change of 10 minutes; DART shortened the orbit by 32 minutes.
“What was really impressive was that we had Hubble, James Webb and other telescopes around the world looking up and seeing this pre-planned, cosmic fireworks display that we were all a big part of.”
Baker worked on the imager Draco—the Didymos reconnaissance and asteroid camera for optical navigation—and led the development of the high-tech camera’s embedded processing system that was used to analyze the images and aid in targeting. He also had a role in developing displays and screens to visualize the data coming back from the spacecraft to Mission Control.
“We had a great team designing, building and testing the spacecraft,” he said. “Once we launched and were in space, we got to practice operating the spacecraft. It was like learning to drive a car.”
Except that car was a 1,300-pound spaceship.
He learned to “drive” through a combination of many diverse and challenging co-ops at RIT and some of the country’s top research labs—what he calls an engineering wonderland. At Brookhaven National Lab, Baker worked on data acquisition software for a large laser system. He then moved on to a program at the NASA Armstrong Research Center, working on equipment for research aircraft, and later an internship with the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, where he would eventually be hired after graduation.
“Many people in computer engineering go to companies like Microsoft, Intel, or Micron,” said Baker, who is originally from Brighton, NY, and who often travels to campus to represent Johns Hopkins APL at the annual career fair. Come , “For those who come from a similar background of computer engineering, computer science, and electrical engineering as I have experienced here at RIT, there is a career path that can be taken from this background in engineering to contribute to fundamental research. the wanted.”
And to contribute to work on new space missions.
DART resonated with people because of its easy-to-understand purpose. It was simple in its focus to hit an asteroid, test whether the technology worked, and make improvements for the future.
“NASA is interested in enabling commercial industry to return us to the Moon. And the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab is proposing instrumentation that could go into these projects,” Baker said. “I often say that the projects I’ve been working on, even the DART missions, all feel like senior design projects that are bigger and longer.”