Business school graduate student prepares for liftoff with NASA satellite project

Media Credit: Max Wang | Staff Photographer

Robert Estes, a student in the master's program for science and project management, spearheaded a NASA effort to launch a new weather satellite into orbit for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A business school graduate student’s NASA project could help the next generation of weather forecasters more accurately predict hurricanes, blizzards and other extreme weather.

Robert Estes, a student in the master’s program for science and project management, spearheaded a NASA effort to launch a new weather satellite into orbit for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The launch is slated for Nov. 10, and at 512 miles above Earth, this satellite-style instrument, called NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System-1, will survey landscapes, oceans and the atmosphere to predict incoming weather systems through heat recognition, he said.

“The better we get an idea on the long term changes and the long term effects, the better we are to improve weather models that can help us understand where the weather is going,” Estes said.

Estes — who currently works as a project manager at NASA — said development for the satellite began in 2007, and after 10 years of calculations and construction, the final product will be ready for its official launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Once the instrument is in orbit, there will be a period of about 30 to 90 days for the team to turn control of the instrument over to the science operations team at NASA, he added.

Estes, who is in his first semester at GW, said he originally became involved with this kind of work with NASA because of his previous experience in software engineering. The development for this particular instrument focuses on constructing lasers that would allow intense light to travel through the atmosphere. The instrument will measure long-term changes in reflected and admitted infrared radiation, or absorbed and reflected heat from the Sun, he said.

The heat can be absorbed by a variety of geographical features like oceans or reflected by deserts and large swathes of vegetation, Estes said. This, he said, will help forecasters predict incoming weather events.

“Where that’s important is that as energy is exchanged, that helps us understand how to model and predict the weather,” Estes said.

Estes said his team collaborated with scientists from NOAA, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the NASA Langley Research Center, the Nordic Bremen Aerospace Center and Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colo.

The skillset needed to work on the instrument, known as JPSS-1, often reflected the leadership skills he was learning in his business school classes, he said.

“There’s tons of ties,” Estes said. “All of the disciplines you find in project management, and as we’re starting to go through organizational risk management, I see reflected in the work I do almost on a daily basis.”

He added that areas including risk management and overall leadership development were directly applicable to working on JPSS-1.

“It all plays a part in it, and I really put it directly to use,” Estes said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.