May/June 2014 Horizons Issue

The May/June 2014 issue of Horizons is now online (46 pages in a 9 MB PDF file). Horizons is the newsletter of the Houston Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). This issue’s cover story is, “Morpheus, The Ups and Downs of an Autonomous Lander,” by Jon Olansen, NASA/JSC. This issue also contains climate change science and public policy articles, a book review by Bill West of the novel The Martian, by Andy Weir, a report on the 45th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, by Larry Jay Friesen, and articles and schedules from the Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society (JSCAS), including, “Building an Astronomer’s Chair,” by Jim Wessel, and a summary of a presentation to JSCAS members by NASA astronaut Dr. Stanley G. Love, “Challenges of Traveling to Mars.”

AIAA Houston Lunch and Learn, Dr. Wyatt Johnson (JSC) – Project Morpheus

Project Morpheus

NASA’s Morpheus Project has developed and tested a prototype planetary lander capable of vertical takeoff and landing. Designed to serve as a vertical testbed (VTB) for advanced spacecraft technologies, the vehicle provides a platform for bringing technologies from the laboratory into an integrated flight system at relatively low cost. This allows individual technologies to mature into capabilities that can be incorporated into human exploration missions. The Morpheus project and the associated Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) project provide technological foundations for key components of the greater exploration architecture necessary to move humans beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).

The Lunch and Learn with Dr. Wyatt Johnson discussing Project Morpheus will be at 11:30am April 17th at Intuitive Machines at 3700 Bay Area Blvd. Houston, TX 77058. Registration is below.

Dr. Wyatt Johnson received his doctorate from Purdue University in 2002 in the area of ‘aeroassisted interplanetary trajectory design’.  He then worked at JPL from 2002 until 2005 working on various projects, including EDL analysis for the Mars Phoenix Lander.  In 2005, Dr. Johnson moved to Houston to work for JSC as a civil servant.  His work initially consisted of  numerical predictor-corrector skip-entry guidance analysis for Orion, as well an emergency entry guidance option called “loads managed guidance”.  In 2010,  Dr. Johnson started working on Morpheus, as the sole member of the guidance team.  During the first dozen tether flights of 2011, it was noted that the vehicle thrust gimbal response did not match the control command.  Other members of the GNC team (Dr Tim Crain and Louis Nguyen) devised a method to measure the offset using a mirror and two lasers. This method confirmed that the gimbal response was the cause of the error, but the data did not suggest a cause.  Dr. Johnson came up with a computer vision approach to take measurements of the gimbal pointing error in an attempt to help the team speed up the process.  Unfortunately, the first version of the tool was about 15-20x slower than the original hand technique, but the digitally collected data helped Dr. Johnson determine the root cause of the gimbal pointing problem and then to correct for the problem via a least squares batch filter.  The filter output was loaded onto the vehicle FSW and the subsequent tether flight showed improved stability.

This talk will cover the “before” and “after” flight performance (as documented in YouTube videos), cover the image processing techniques needed to digitally record the gimbal pointing error, and cover the batch filter design that corrected for the gimbal errors.  This process is still being used periodically on Morpheus to verify engine calibration prior to flight.  Finally, the image processing techniques will be demonstrated using the custom built software tool derived from the OpenCV image processing library.


Event Registration:

Traversing New Horizons – 2012-2013 Executive Council, Latest Issues of Horizons Available, Awards+Robonaut2, and Website Status

2012-2013 Election Results

It is our pleasure to announce the 2012-2013 elected council members:
Chair: Daniel Nobles
Chair-Elect: Jonathan Sandys
Vice-Chair, Technical: Brian Banker
Vice-Chair, Operations: Michael Frostad
Secretary: Robert Plunkett
Treasurer: Clay Stangle
Councilors: Shirley Brandt, Larry Friesen, Sarah Shull, Christopher Davila, Alan Sisson
(One year term left) Ellen Gillespie, Matt Johnson, Melissa Kronenberger

We will also be interviewing candidates for appointed positions for next year’s AIAA Houston Executive Council very soon.

If you are interested and would like to be considered for any of positions with a red border or without any border on the 2011-2012 org chart, please contact the chair, Daniel Nobles, at chair2012[at]

Congratulations to all! The 2012-2013 year will be another fantastic year with these leaders serving the council!


The AIAA Houston Section is proud to present its latest issues – including a special edition highlighting the section’s 50th Anniversary gala – of Horizons, the award-winning bi-monthly newsletter publication.

  • May/June 2012 Issue (PDF, 13948kb)
    Volume 37, Number 7

    • Cover story: Morpheus, by Dr. Jon B. Olansen, NASA/JSC
    • Dinner meeting of June 6, 2012, the 50th anniversary of AIAA Houston Section
    • The 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport
    • The Annual Technical Symposium (ATS 2012) at NASA/JSC
    • Planetary Resources: Flight of Fancy or Real Wealth?, editorial by Shen Ge
    • Will Europe Participate in the Orion MPCV Project of the USA?, by Philippe Mairet, 3AF MP
    • Ellington Field, Airport, Spaceport & The Lone Star Flight Museum
    • Yuri’s Night Houston 2012: The 5k Fun Run and Space Day
    • Space Fighter: 1963, by Scott Lowther, Aerospace Projects Review
    • Rest in Peace, John Llewellyn, Apollo era engineer
  • 50th Anniversary Edition (PDF, 14884kb)
    Volume 37, Number 6, Special Edition, June 6, 2012

    • The 1987 twenty-page booklet celebrating the 25th anniversary of AIAA Houston Section
    • More than twenty news pages extending that 1987 for our 2012 celebration of the 50th anniversary of AIAA Houston Section
  • March/April 2012 Issue (PDF, 14731kb)
    Volume 37, Number 5

    • Cover story: Develop Cislunar Space Next, by Paul Spudis
    • Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC 2012), by Shen Ge
    • Commercial Cargo, by Carl Walz of Orbital Sciences Corporation
    • Leading the Next 50 Years of Exploration, by Douglas Terrier, NASA/JSC
    • NASA GRAIL Lunar Mission, from the Lunar and Planetary Institute Cosmic Explorations lecture series
    • Dream Chaser for NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDev), by John Curry of Sierra Nevada Corporation
    • Book review by Daniel R. Adamo, Astrodynamics Consultant, 50 Years on the Space Frontier by Robert W. Farquhar
    • Astronaut Training in Star City, by Philippe Mairet, 3AF MP
    • International Cooperation, by Philippe Mairet, 3AF MP
    • Virtus, by Scott Lowther, Aerospace Projects Review (APR)
    • The Conquest of Space and The Ugly Spaceship, by Dr. Albert A. Jackson IV

AIAA-Houston Section Annual Awards Banquet

Featuring guest speaker, Nicolaus A. Radford, Robonaut 2 Deputy Project Manager, who will give us an update on the latest developments of Robonaut 2

Please join us in honoring fellow AIAA Houston Section members that are celebrating their 25th, 40th, 50th, and even 60th anniversary as AIAA members! We will also be recognizing outstanding members that have gone above and beyond to enrich our section’s programs and technical endeavors.

Date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Time: 6:00pm
Location: NASA JSC, Gilruth Center, Alamo Ballroom
$15 – Members; $20 Non-members
Public welcomed
Come meet the 2012-2013 AIAA Houston Section Council!

AIAA-Houston will also be presenting a charitable donation to the Challenger Center from Yuri’s Night’s proceeds.

Details on how and when to RSVP will follow.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Speaker Biography:

Nicolaus A. Radford currently works for National Aeronautics and    Space Administration at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in the Dexterous Robotics Laboratory. He serves as the Deputy Project Manager and Chief Electrical Engineer for NASA’s Robonaut 2, an anthropomorphic humanoid robot. He is also the Principal Investigator for NASA in DARPA-funded advanced electric machine research for robotics. He also leads NASA efforts in exoskeleton research for crew exercise and mobility assistance.  He specializes in inverter design for brushless DC motor control. He graduated with a B.S.E.E. (’00) and a M.S.E.E (’12) from Purdue University and is currently pursuing a PhD absentia with Dr. Steven Pekarek in Optimal Design of Variable Flux Permanent Magnet Synchronous Machines at Purdue also.

Website Status

Migration of the data from the old website to this site is coming along steadily. What you see now is not the final product. Stay tuned for a new look and feel and more updated content (especially under the Technical Committee page).