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Q&A: Kayla Weixlmann Shares What it’s Like to be an Orion Engineer at Lockheed Martin

22 February 2016

Meet Kayla Weixlmann, Chief Principal Engineer (CPE) Delegate for Orion Flight Software’s Onboard Data Network. The Lockheed Martin engineer is currently pursuing her MS in Mechatronics Systems Engineering and tells Electronics 360 about her inspiration, the current Orion project, as well as the challenges that come along with this career.

Kayla Weixlmann.Kayla Weixlmann.

Nicolette Emmino: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you became involved in engineering? Ultimately what led to your interest in this particular field?

Kayla Weixlmann: From a young age I was always interested in math, language and puzzles. As I got closer to deciding my career path, I struggled with making a decision and I wasn’t sure how I could meld my interests to identify a career that fit me. I didn’t feel like I fit the mold for Engineering and despite my interest I felt uneasy in my decision to pursue Computer Engineering. I didn’t grow up building computers or tinkering with electronics – my brother was always the tech savvy one of our family – and I was worried that I would struggle through the curriculum. It wasn’t until I was in my first year of undergrad that I really felt that I had found my calling, and through the encouragement of my professors I continued to excel to where I am today.

Nicolette Emmino: What does your role as a software engineer entail?

Kayla Weixlmann: As Delegate CPE for Orion’s Onboard Data Network, I develop tooling and data to produce the network hardware loadable files for all test labs and flight. My primary responsibilities are to provide hands-on development and integration efforts, along with software engineering in all phases of the software lifecycle following the program Software Development Plan. This includes requirements analysis, object-oriented analysis and design, code and unit test, integration, and support to formal test / delivery for Orion spacecraft flight software and spacecraft testing. In my position, I need to interface with various architectures, subsystems for major avionics, software, inclusive of crew module and service module components.

Nicolette Emmino: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job?

Kayla Weixlmann: The most challenging part of my job is resolving bugs and testing anomalies. It’s always difficult to determine the root cause of issues that are observed in the labs and determine the optimal solution that is safe, secure and compliant with our requirements for flight.

Nicolette Emmino: Conversely, what do you find to be the most rewarding?

Kayla Weixlmann: Interestingly for me, challenging and reward is one in the same. I always love the challenge of figuring out why something isn’t working as expected. If I’m not getting tested and pushed to the edge of my knowledge on subjects, I would lose a lot of the passion that I have for my work.

Nicolette Emmino: In your opinion, what has been the most fascinating project you’ve worked on so far in the course of your career?

Kayla Weixlmann: It’s absolutely Orion; coming to work each day with the realization that I am one of the many engineers all working toward a common goal of building the first and only deep space exploration vehicle is thrilling. Orion is taking humans farther than they’ve ever been before with mission plans ranging from an asteroid all to way to Mars. Being involved in a program that is pushing the future of human space flight and deep space exploration is such an exhilarating experience. Having the opportunity to work for Lockheed Martin, which has consistently led the industry when it comes to making products that discover scientific breakthroughs, is an inspiration to my peers.

Artist rendering of Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft in deep space. (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin)Artist rendering of Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft in deep space. (Image Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Nicolette Emmino: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re currently working on at Lockheed Martin and how it may affect the future of human space flight and planetary exploration?

Kayla Weixlmann: Orion’s Onboard Data Network is essentially the nervous system for the entire spacecraft. We allow for the various avionics system components, each performing flight critical functions, to communicate via a deterministic network. We are using TTEthernet, which allows us to meet time critical requirements and guarantee deterministic behavior. It is fully compatible with IEEE 802.3 standards and allows us the flexibility to prioritize the traffic flowing on our network, thus ensuring the delivery of flight critical messages. TTEthernet is rapidly becoming popular in not only the aerospace industry, but in commercial and others as well.

Nicolette Emmino: If you had to give advice to an aspiring engineer, what would you tell him/her?

Kayla Weixlmann: Don’t get caught up by the societal perceptions of Engineering and think that maybe it’s not for you. In a discipline that is always striving to explore, discover and break down the walls of what is possible, we need creative minds with fresh ideas that don’t fit the traditional mold.



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