Seeing the Vulcan Centaur pathfinder venting gaseous oxygen during its first tanking test and achieving this visual milestone created a gratifying feeling of progress for the entire United Launch Alliance (ULA) team, including former intern and now systems engineer Amanda Siirola.
"My most memorable and exciting moment while working on Vulcan was obviously seeing the booster on the pad filled with liquid oxygen (LO2) for the first time!" said Siirola.
"So much hard work, time, and energy has gone into this booster, and seeing it all come together is a thrilling experience. I have been working the Pathfinder Tanking Test (PTT) since I started full time, and it gives me great pride to point to that booster and say 'I helped make that happen!' I am looking forward to supporting the remaining testing for PTT and start work on further testing."
The pathfinder was transported aboard the Vulcan Launch Platform (VLP) from the Spaceflight Processing Operations Center (SPOC) to Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 on Aug. 25. The liquid oxygen tanking test was successfully conducted on Aug. 30. Upcoming tests will load liquefied natural gas (LNG) into the booster.
"For PTT, I am the System Test point of contact. I have helped support an on-time execution of this Vulcan milestone by supporting the Test Readiness Reviews prior to testing, communicating status and open items with subsystems and management, writing test documentation, supporting the Project Manager and Vehicle Systems Engineer, and making sure all items are integrated to ensure a successful test," Siirola said.
"It was exciting being at the Cape and seeing the booster roll to the pad and even more exciting when we started to fill the booster with LO2 for the first time! Seeing the cloud of LO2 venting out of the booster was a bit surreal. I remember thinking to myself that I was witnessing history. I joined ULA at a very exciting time when a lot of firsts are happening, and I am thankful I have the opportunity to support these monumental firsts."
Growing up in Centennial, Colo., near today's ULA Headquarters, Siirola graduated in 2020 from the University of Colorado-Boulder with both her bachelor’s and master's degrees in aerospace engineering. She was a ULA intern in the summer of 2019 with Denver-based engineering professionals.
"As an intern, I helped support the Centaur V Scaled Slosh Test and the Booster Structural Qualification Test. I had the opportunity to write test documentation, support test readiness reviews, communicate with test directors, and help organize and document test hardware," said Siirola.
"For the Booster Structural Qualification test, it was pretty amazing getting to come back to ULA and see the test I supported as an intern finally take place. I also had the opportunity to see the work I had completed during my internship be used during testing and be used during anomaly discussions. Now as a full-time employee, I have the opportunity to improve and streamline the original processes."
As a systems engineer in the Vulcan program, Siirola's integrator job includes communicating with stakeholders, writing test documentation, and ensuring all items are successfully communicated and integrated for a successful test campaign. She interned with and now works full-time within the SEIT System Test Group, which stands for the Systems Engineering, Integration and Test.
"Many of the lessons I learned during my internship and the tasks I directly worked on apply to the work I am doing now. I feel like it is all coming full circle and the work I did was meaningful to the Vulcan program as a whole," Siirola says.
Siirola's advice for prospective interns: "Take every opportunity you can get your hands on. Be curious and continue to ask questions. You will learn more from your mistakes than you will from success.”
“Additionally, as an engineer, even if you have more of a technical role or managerial role, everyone and everything integrates into one big system. Everyone should have a bit of a systems engineering mindset no matter what position or job you are working. So work on developing that mindset and hone in on your communication skills."
ULA's intern program offers paid engineering and business positions designed to provide students with real-world work experience and exposure to life at the nation's premier space launch company.
If you are interested in applying for a ULA internship, job postings opened in the ULA Intern Career Center on Sept. 7 for the summer of 2022.