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Saturday, April 24, 2010

The History of the Space Center's New Galileo Mark VI. The Beginning.

By Alex Debirk
CMSEC Flight Director

Back in April 2002 I began training as a Galileo flight director under Kyle Herring and James Porter. There weren't any high school flight directors at that time, and I was part of a push to train a bunch in order to combat growing school class sizes around the district. Soon after I began training, Kyle learned that I was also a drafting student, and he approached me about designing a replacement for the Galileo. The ship was already 3 years old or so, and was only meant to last 5, so coming up with a sturdier model to replace the now middle-aged box was going to soon become paramount.

A while later Kyle and I sat down and began the original design in my basement. I had some precognitions as to the limits of what the Space Center would be able to build, but Kyle quickly showed me that there shouldn't be any. From this experience, I now think that this is the most important part of any design process. You ask what would be ideal, forgetting limitations, and set about making it as real as possible. We decided that "ideal" meant three things: space (as in sq. footage) enough to house six crew members with a separate cabin, and a strong enough ship to require little to no maintenance. That night we created the basic design that is in essence still intact. The floor plan put 5 crew members in traditional locations on the bridge, with a wall containing a sliding door to isolate the bridge from a cabin in the back. A sixth officer, a technician or engineer, would be in the cabin and be a little bit like the "Tex" of the ship--he or she gives his input to the rest of the crew while performing the grittier side of all the jobs as ordered by the operations or tactical officer on the bridge. There would be a torpedo launcher in the floor where either the tactical officer or the technician would physically take a probe casing out and fill it with actual objects instead of selecting imaginary objects from a list on a computer screen. They would then drop it into the launcher to be fired. As for the outer shape of the ship, well it's too complicated to describe, so I've included a picture of it. So as you can see, the actual ship still reflects the basic plan created in that meeting 8 years ago.

With our design in place, we now had a number of problems to take care of. First, we realized that while the ship would be built in a shop away from the school, it would have to be small enough to get into the school. We determined that the maximum sized piece that would fit down the halls and through the doors was 5'-9" wide, 6'-6" tall and 8'-0" long. That makes for a small ship, in fact not much bigger than the old ship (knock off the engines, nose, and control room from the old ship and you basically have those dimensions), not the spacious thing we were imagining. Our solution was that we would make the ship from three pieces, two for the bridge, one for the cabin, each small enough to fit through the door, that we would bolt together and mount onto a warp nacelle frame to create the final ship. The cool thing about this was that while we were making a simulator that was some 3 feet wider and six feet longer, the new Galileo still took up the same amount of floor space as the old Galileo. We were really just being more efficient with the space the original ship was taking. Instead of dead nose space like the old ship, we used that space, and we shrunk the nacelles so they could tuck underneath the lower curving walls a bit, so if you measured the extreme lengths and widths of both the old ship and the new, there wasn't any difference. We figured that would make Central's principal happy.

Next we had to figure out how to build the curved shape of the ship. The original design was made of spline curves, some of them compound (curving both horizontally and vertically). We thought of bending square tubes to make the shape, but just thinking about how to make a tube twist in just the right way in 3D space had me looking a bit green in the face. The problem is you can't measure spline curves--the only way is to give the fabricators coordinates to points in space and hope they can match it decently, which is exactly what I ended up doing on the drawings. Kyle and I then met with some steel shops to get their input and see what they were capable of doing. One of them is a very large shop in Pleasant Grove that does very large structural steel projects. We talked to them about the project, and they weren't excited about building with tubes either. They wanted a model to go with the drawings, though. So I sat down and from the drawings tried to make a balsa wood frame of the actual ship, hoping I'd drawn the designs right and that the thing would come together (like I said, I was only a high school drafting student). It took a long time. I had to bend the wood to fit each shape and drown it in glue to make it hold. After three weeks of hours a day, I had finished only the nose section. As I was getting ready for the rest, though, I got a call from a guy at the steel shop in Pleasant Grove saying that he had built a full model in a day--I was a bit blown away. He had come up with a different design though--bulkheads, flat steel shapes cut into ribs that have the exact shape of the ship. All that's needed is then to weld the shapes together, and then you put a metal skin over the "bones" as it were, creating the perfect shape. Not only did bulkheads eliminate twisting tubes, but the structure was stronger, more versatile, and lighter. What's more, cutting shapes is done by computerized cutters in no time at all, making the process much faster and much much cheaper. It was perfect, well, except that I had to redo all of the drawings, again hoping the 2D projections would become the shape we hoped for. There were some delays on the horizon, though. The Phoenix suddenly needed a more permanent home than a space lab bubble in the cafeteria, and I was hired to design that too. More problematic, I was nearly 19. I left on my mission in 2004 having barely finished it all (I think I needed to have my dad turn in the Phoenix plans on the way home from dropping me off at the MTC). The Phoenix was built with some upgrades to the initial plans while I was gone, but as far as I know the Galileo project came to a halt.

Fast forward four years to summer 2008. I'd been home from my mission two years, returned to the Space Center to fly the Voyager (haven't ever gotten back to the Galileo), and worked for an engineering company using 3D modeling software. I'd gotten married and my wife and I had taken a pro theater job at Tuacahn in St. George. I wasn't sure if the Galileo Mark VI would ever be built, but for my own purposes I began building the old bird anyway in the 3D modeling program I used at work. I wanted to get away from the 2D guesswork and have it just right, for sentimental sake if anything. I cut bulkheads out and put them together in a 3D model. It turned out my old 2D AutoCAD projections were right on, and the ship fit together perfectly. As fate would have it, not long after I began, I got a call from Kyle, asking me if I could start putting plans for the Galileo together again. He'd gotten the go ahead from Victor to finally build the ship. I told him I already had the design.

Working from St George, I delivered completed details to Kyle (from which the picture below comes from). The structure simply needed to be cut out and welded together at a fab shop. Kyle had a different idea, though. He wanted to sponsor a BYU Mechanical Engineering Capstone project and have the students build the ship for us. The idea was that they would get the finished design and then provide the labor to build it, saving the Center money, or at least that's how I understood it. There's probably more details there from Kyle's side. I had a bad feeling about it, and tried to fight it, but being far away in St. George made it tough. Victor was for it, though, and he has the final say. So BYU got the project. By the time I'd finished my contract and come home, the project was well under way.

For the project to be academically viable, however, the BYU students couldn't just take someone else's design and build it like they were simple hired labor. They had to redesign it to make the project their own, which makes total sense from BYU's point of view. That's how the Galileo came to look like it does today. It's still based on the original design--the floor plan is still the same, including the torpedo launcher and the forward escape hatch, but BYU reverted the ship's structure back to tubing instead of bulkheads, and turned curved shape into a practical multifaceted one. There were some pros and cons to BYU's design. For instance, the ship is bigger and roomier than I had designed, and it was much easier to mount the interior and exterior skin of the ship onto flat planes rather than the curves I had going. It's heavier, though, and was much more expensive.

The interior and all, including the amazing engineering system done by Matt Long, were all designed and built by others. You'll have to talk to Kyle, Matt, Stacy or Taylor if you want background on that--unless you're too bored at this point. The only other thing I was a part of was the torpedo launcher. Spencer carved a mold of the probe casings out of wood, and then Kyle Jones, Morgan Ruesch and I got together to design the launcher itself and all of the components that go inside. The Galileo's engineering section and the torpedo launcher mark really big moments in space center history, I think. The engineering section has been designed so that the days of simple "plug and chug" damage reports are over in the Galileo. The engineer will have to determine how to repair a system by themselves through diagnostics and personal know-how. In other words real engineering and problem solving. Also, the probe casings and equipment are designed to pose executive challenges on their use and versatility. These innovations provide another level to problem solving at the Space Center, a part of Center's core curriculum.

Overall, the goals that Kyle and I had in our first design meeting have been met. Although it's taken eight years to get there (evidenced by the length of this!), the Galileo Mark VI is larger, more durable, and more equipped to provide all of the things the Space Center is founded upon than its predecessor.

Anyway, that's the history of the Galileo's design as far as I was involved. Kyle, the mastermind, Matt or Stacy likely have a lot more to add.

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