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Launcher moves on to develop avionics for its satellite delivery system

Industry veterans Kevin Watson and Richard Petrs join team

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Launcher, an NYC startup developing the world’s most efficient rocket to deliver small satellites to orbit, started by leveraging 3D printing to develop a high-performance propulsion system. In no segment like the space industry segment, 3D printing is enabling small teams to get into the game and compete with industrial giants on getting stuff into orbit. Now the company is ready to move on to the next stage: avionics, and to do so, having established a valid and credible proposition, it was able to attract NASA JPL & SpaceX veterans Kevin Watson and Rich Petras.

Avionics includes all the ground and vehicle fault-tolerant computers, electronics, wiring, and software for guidance & control, video, radio transmission, autonomous flight termination systems, and more. 3D printing may still play a role here in prototyping PCB’s and in the production of custom enclosures.

Kevin Watson will head the team as Head of Avionics. He has over thirty years designing hardware and software for rockets and spacecraft. He started his career at NASA/JPL where he developed expertise in the area of space radiation effects in complex integrated circuits. Kevin then went on to work on several JPL spacecraft and development of Mars rover technologies. When he left JPL in 2008, he was group supervisor of the Advanced Computer Systems and Technologies Group, which is responsible for providing flight computer hardware to all JPL flight missions. During his tenure at JPL, Kevin had directly worked on, or developed technologies for the Galileo orbiter, Mars Pathfinder lander, Sojourner rover, Cassini orbiter, Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, Mars Phoenix lander, Spirit and Opportunity rovers, and the Curiosity rover projects.

In 2008 Kevin joined SpaceX to lead the development of flight computers for the Falcon 9 & Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon spacecraft. He led the overall development of the fault-tolerant computing architecture for these vehicles. In addition, Kevin personally designed all computers and networking hardware used on these vehicles. This hardware was proven to be significantly more robust than the avionics typically used in aerospace, yet one to two orders of magnitude less expensive.

Rich Petras has joined as Head of Avionics Software. He has been working in the spacecraft avionics and embedded systems field for 35 years. He has long been an advocate for open source software and commodity hardware for spacecraft applications. His interests include space systems of all kinds, autonomous vehicles and robotics.

Rich Petras started his career working on the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs in Houston at IBM Federal Systems. He developed device drivers for flight hardware and ground systems for various operating systems including DOS, Windows, OS/2 and AIX. It was here that he was first introduced to Linux in 1992.

In 1996 Rich moved to JPL’s research rover group where he was the first in the group to use Linux as a development platform for rover software. At JPL Rich worked with the team that developed a common rover software architecture (Claraty) that was the basis for many of the research rovers at JPL culminating in the software used on Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. Rich was responsible for testing the autonomous navigation software for the MER rovers. As part of the MER rover operations team he spent several months living on Mars time and was one of 3 people to see the first images come back from Spirit.

In 2008 Rich joined the SpaceX flight software team of about 10 people. He was responsible for developing the microcontroller code for the COTS UHF Communications Unit (CUCU) and Crew Control Panel (CCP) that were used to communicate with the Dragon spacecraft as it approached the ISS. In less than 10 months CUCU went from concept to delivery to the ISS on the Shuttle. Rich also developed the ISS crew laptop software and procedures used to update the CUCU and CCP code onboard the ISS. When SpaceX developed its own fault-tolerant flight computers Rich developed the synchronization software running on a standard Linux kernel to prove that the open-source OS was capable of meeting the real-time requirements needed to control the Dragon and Falcon 9 vehicles.

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