In his day-to-day work as a mechanical engineer, Steven Gillmer juggles a wide variety of projects, but his current work is focused on the NASA TROPICS program. TROPICS is an innovative approach to weather surveillance that replaces expensive, bus-sized weather satellites with a constellation of smaller spacecraft, each about the size of a loaf of bread. The constellation of satellites provides rapid revisit observations of tropical storms to fill gaps in our current knowledge of how storms evolve and better predict where they will travel. Furthermore, the small satellites can be launched as secondary payloads, allowing access to space at a reduced cost. More accurate weather data and more affordable weather satellites could save lives and minimize damages to the United States by providing early warning of extreme weather. Gillmer was in charge of designing, developing, and building a mechanism to precisely rotate the sensor during data collection; he is particularly drawn to the general idea of being able to replace the functionality of a big, expensive satellite using a cheaper, smaller satellite constellation.
Much of what Gillmer does has implications for national security. As well as being used in satellites, the precision sensors and mechanisms he creates are implemented in everything from naval ships and laser systems to ballistic missile surveillance. He says that using innovative science and technology to protect the United States is both exciting and humbling, and one of the most fulfilling parts of his work. Although the threats to U.S. national security are many and varied, the intelligence and innovation that his colleagues display give Gillmer confidence in the security of the country.