GMI Program Manager- Don Figgins


The Ball Aerospace Global Precipitation Measurement-Microwave Imager (GMI) supports the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, which is a joint effort between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to improve climate, weather and rainfall predictions by providing more accurate precipitation measurements from space.

The GPM satellite was successfully launched from Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island in southern Japan at 1:37 p.m. February 27, 2014. The satellite flew onboard an H-IIA launch vehicle.

Don Figgins is Ball’s Program Manager for GMI.

Q. What does it mean to be the program manager for Ball’s GMI instrument for the GPM mission – what do you do?
A. As the GMI program manager, I’m accountable for the project’s total success and customer satisfaction including technical compliance, schedule, and cost performance. Following delivery of the instrument to the customer, the success and satisfaction criteria shifted towards providing timely, expert on-site customer support which continued throughout the GPM pre-launch activities and three-to-four months after launch.

Q. What is the most interesting part of working on GMI/GPM?
A. GMI has three highly complex mechanisms that are required to deploy the instrument’s main antenna and spin the instrument at 32 rpm. We’ve implemented lessons learned to enhance the on-orbit calibration system to enable GMI to be a gold-standard for all future precipitation science measurements. The six unique Radio Frequency receivers, power supply, and A/D converter are state-of-the-art in terms of size, mass, and receiver signal to noise ratio. All of this is needed to be able to measure global precipitation from space.

Q. What is the key technology or performance improvement for GMI?
A. Relevant to previous radiometers, GMI’s 4-point calibration system is considered an improvement. The low mass and power utilization and the vapor-deposited aluminum coating on the main antenna are also important improvements. Adding three high-frequency channels will enable scientists to now study snow and ice particles too. Due to the unusual orbit of the GPM spacecraft, GMI’s system thermal design is unique as well

Q. What does Ball provide for this instrument/program that is unique?
A. During the competitive proposal, Ball engineers came up with the 4-point calibration concept. This was one of our chief technical discriminators and allowed Ball the opportunity to produce GMI for NASA. Ball also produces the very complex spin mechanism required to spin the instrument at 32 rpm. We’re one a few companies in the U.S. that has a proven track record for this type of mechanism. Ball is also unique because we’re still one the few remaining U.S. aerospace companies that has a world-class antenna group including the test facilities to measure RF performance from UHF to W-Band.

Q. Was there an individual who inspired you in your career?
A. Looking back, I’d say my grandfather most inspired my interest in electricity and electrons. He was a master electrician and when I was growing up he would sometimes let me go to work with him and provided the seed of interest for me to become an electronics engineer. I’ve had several mentors in my 30 years at Ball. One was an engineer from Iran and the other was a native Coloradan. I learned early in my career that to be successful you need to do what you say you’re going to do. If you can constantly do this, then people will believe in you and your customers will depend on you.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?
A. My wife and I just celebrated our 31st anniversary and our two daughters graduate from CU this year. And now that GMI is almost complete, I guess this means I can work on improving my golf game.

Q. What is something people don’t know about you?
A. When growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, I worked at Skyline Caverns as a tour guide from 14 to 18 years of age. I loved exploring wild caves.





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