L'Team - Featuring Wilfredo Santiago

Jan 15, 2020

While a robot may be the one visiting the Trojan asteroids, people are responsible for getting it there. In L’Team we meet some of the people that make the Lucy Mission possible.

Wilfredo Santiago with Lucy's core structure at Lockheed Martin.

What is your role on the Lucy team?

I’m a Thermal Engineer on the Lucy spacecraft team at Lockheed Martin Space. Our team interacts with every subsystem on the spacecraft and our instrument teams to ensure that temperatures are within limits at every phase of the mission. We do that by running computer models to predict temperatures which helps to define insulation blankets and electric heaters to keep everything in its ‘comfort zone’. Lucy is particularly challenging because it has to operate closer to the Sun than Earth is and will go further than any other spacecraft on solar power – it is a unique challenge! It is a delicate balance to prevent any components from overheating while using the least amount of heater power possible in the extreme cold far away from the Sun. It’s a role I enjoy because you have to maintain a system level perspective when optimizing the thermal design and get to learn a little bit from not just every subsystem, but also the instruments that are the key to unlocking the secrets that the Trojans hold.

Please describe the path you’ve taken to get here.

I think my journey to Lucy started a long time ago. I have had the opportunity to work on human spacecraft such as Orion and Starliner and, most recently, as a thermal operations engineer within our Deep Space Exploration group in the Mission Support Area at Lockheed Martin. I think my experience on those programs, particularly the Juno spacecraft, paved the path for me to join the Lucy project. I really wanted to gain experience working with hardware and Lucy is allowing me to do that beyond my expectations. Our team has extensive experience on deep space missions, and I’m looking forward to learning from everyone.

What has surprised you the most about the mission?

My favorite part of the Lucy mission is by far the number of Trojan asteroids that will be explored in detail for the very first time. I didn’t quite have a grasp of the importance of the mission until I heard a talk from our PI at Southwest Research Institute. The science teams on these NASA missions never cease to amaze me with their creativity and the unbelievable facts about our solar system that they can discern from these kind of missions.

What is your best Lucy Team memory so far?

I actually have two! The first one was seeing the size of our team through the Critical Design Review season. There are so many people that are contributing to the mission that sometimes you don’t get to interact with. You quickly get a sense that this is so much bigger than you and that gives you a restored sense of duty and determination to help make it successful. The second one was standing next to the spacecraft’s core structure that was recently finished. It’s no longer a computer model or a cool graphic on someone’s presentation and we have to make sure we stay on top of things to meet our first launch window.

What Lucy challenges have you overcome? How have you done this?

Our thermal team has had their share of technical challenges to close the thermal design. Things like maintaining acceptable temperatures on our propulsion system across the large solar range and ensuring that spacecraft design changes have favorable impacts to the instruments thermal performance since they are highly sensitive to temperature changes. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily uncommon when you are trying to design a system that will go explore beyond the inner planets. You have to rely on the people’s decades of experience.

What’s your favorite hobby

My favorite hobby is photography. I really enjoy going out to scenic places around Colorado and other places around the world. I do maintain a website with all my photos so it’s getting to be a serious hobby that I enjoy quite a bit. I think the main attraction for me is being able to share snapshots of places that most people wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see.

What is your favorite dish to eat and why?

Favorite “dish” would have to be hazelnut gelato because I love everything hazelnut! I tend to eat like a picky 3 year old. I grew up in Puerto Rico so if I had to pick “real food”, it would be white rice with kidney beans’ broth and fried green plantains because it reminds me of home.