Operational Land Imager Program Manager
Charlie VanHouten is the Ball Aerospace program manager for the Operational Land Imager built for the 8th Landsat Mission. In 2012, VanHouten received Ball’s Excellence Award for Program Management in the Space Hardware category. He has more than 26 years’ experience managing or leading cost, schedule and technical performance on aerospace systems. At Ball Aerospace since 1989, he most recently led OLI to its pre-ship review just 48 months after contract start. VanHouten says the most important thing to him as a program manager is collaboration – both within and outside the company.
How did you get your start in aerospace?
My father worked at the Cape in the 60’s. I started college studying engineering in 1969, but eventually graduated with a degree in psychology. After a string of various jobs, I went back to college in 1980 and got an engineering degree. Following an internship at the Naval Ocean Systems Center during my last year, I have worked in aerospace ever since.
What do you do as Ball’s program manager for the OLI instrument?
The program manager’s role is to plan the program, allocate budgets and schedules, check progress against plans, facilitate issue resolution, and report progress.
What are the most interesting or fulfilling aspects of working OLI for the Landsat program?
Focal Plane development was probably the most interesting technical challenge. Most fulfilling for me was fostering efficient collaboration across the very large OLI team, including Ball, NASA, USGS and subcontractors. All of the day-to-day collisions between brilliant plans and hard physics were opportunities to band together to solve problems.
What question are you asked most frequently about OLI or what the instrument will do?
Many questions are related to OLI performance. For example, “What is so special about OLI?” Its resolution is very modest by current standards but its radiometric performance is extreme. Radiometric performance could be described as the precision and/or accuracy with which the amount of light in each of nine bands is measured.
You have announced that you’ll be retiring from Ball Aerospace this spring, following the launch. What’s next?
While I have nearly too many hobbies, interests and projects, I plan to focus on home projects in the near term. Primary among the many of those is building a new house. After we are in that, attention can turn more toward various adventures and who knows what new developments.