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Highlighted Team Member
T. Adrian Hill, Fault Protection Lead for MESSENGER

Being a critical player for two different space missions simultaneously should be a challenge for anyone, but it doesn't seem to faze T. Adrian Hill, who serves as the fault protection lead not just for MESSENGER, but also for the New Horizons mission to explore Pluto-Charon and the Kuiper Belt.

"I feel very fortunate that I am able to work on two spacecraft that are going to opposite ends of the solar system,” he says. “How many people can make a claim to that?”

The fault protection system is a spacecraft’s last line of defense against various obstacles, many of which would spell disaster without it. Thankfully, however, Hill and his teams have implemented a “system of rules and responses” that will enable each craft to detect and isolate on-board faults and to take corrective action accordingly. As such, Hill’s contributions to both projects are indeed critical.

Given the extent of his experience, however, perhaps Hill’s competent and calm demeanor should come as no surprise. Though he joined APL’s Space Department in 2000, Hill has been developing flight software for NASA-sponsored projects for more than a dozen years now. One of his most memorable experiences was working as a flight software lead for the Hubble Space Telescope.

"I had the opportunity not only to lead the software development, but to actually watch on the video as the astronauts removed the old computer and installed our computer with our new software," he explains. "Watching from the ground as the software came up and running and started operating. it was a satisfying moment."

Prior to launch, Hill served as MESSENGER’s flight software lead, developing systems for the spacecraft’s flight processors. After lift-off, when MESSENGER found itself in need of fault protection, Hill was happy to volunteer. Among other things, it will allow him to observe the software that he developed during MESSENGER’s initial stages in practice.

"It will be very satisfying, once we get to Mercury and have a successful mission, to have been able to see it through from start to finish," he says with conviction.

Come fall, though, when he’s not safeguarding spacecraft against slipups, Hill likes to indulge his first love: football. As a college football referee, he spends his Saturdays moonlighting around the country officiating games.

“It’s my big passion. I started ref’ing football back in 1990 - little league youth ball, then high school ball — and now I’ve been fortunate enough to work college football,” he says. While he concedes that he’s not always the most popular person, Hill thoroughly enjoys his side job nevertheless.

A master of many trades, Hill juggles this diverse array of activities with a panache that hasn’t gone unnoticed. This year, he became the third APL employee in recent history to earn the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) prestigious “Engineer of the Year” designation. He has also been the recipient of the Raytheon ITSS Peer Award, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Special Payloads Division Dedicated Service Award, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Group Achievement Award.

Hill is a member of APL’s Principal Professional Staff. He holds an M.S. in computer science from The Johns Hopkins University and resides in Bowie, MD with his wife VaLerie.

By: Hayley Brown, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

I was the MESSENGER Flight Software Lead from the mission's early design stage through launch. During the development, integration and launch preparation of the spacecraft, the Flight Software Lead role allowed me to work closely with many of the talented people working the mission. The Flight Software interfaces with nearly all of the other subsystems on the spacecraft in some way. So leading that effort exposed me to many of these systems.

Being able to support the launch was also very rewarding. I started on the MESSENGER program when I joined APL in the spring of 2000 while the program was still in its infancy. We grew the development team from two team members (when I started) to over 10 team members during the height of the development effort. So I had the opportunity to see the mission from initial development through the successful launch. The day of the launch was the most rewarding moment to date. There was a great feeling of satisfaction in successfully achieving our first contact with the spacecraft after launch from the Mission Operations Center. So many things have to perform correctly in order for that to happen. I still remember the big cheer in the MOC when the displays turned green indicating that we were acquiring data from the spacecraft.

After launch, I assumed the Fault Protection and Autonomy Lead role. This was a great opportunity to remain on the MESSENGER program and follow the mission through orbit insertion in 2011 and the end of orbital operations in 2012. In this role, I am responsible for the system that we have on-board to monitor spacecraft health and perform corrective actions to maintain spacecraft safety. We typically contact the spacecraft three times per week during the cruise phase to Mercury and this on-board safing system is the first line of defense in maintaining the spacecraft. We have had a couple of faults since launch and the system has performed as designed by taking the proper corrective actions.

Of course the job is not done until we complete orbital operations at Mercury and there are still numerous challenges ahead.

--Statement by T. Adrian Hill about MESSENGER

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