🔥 Ball Aerospace¶
Whew! That’s a big subject! In 2016 Ball Aerospace celebrated it’s 60th year of aerospace research and equipment production. Today, approximately 65 years since its founding in 1956, in Boulder, Colorado, Ball Aerospace is huge. In 2014 it was cited as the 88th largest defense contractor in the world. I worked there from 1980 to 1986 in Ball’s primary facility in Boulder, Colorado.
Ball Aerospace is in the space business, building spacecrafts, satellites, and scientific instruments used for research and defense. Ball also produces lubricants, optical systems and antennas of many different types.
My relevant background began in 1978 when I was hired as an electronic assembler by a small custom electronic assembly firm, Technical Manufacturing Services, which was started by two former employees of Ball Aerospace. Upon hire at Ball in 1980, I became a Prototype Assembler, working as part of a team that developed innovative electronic assembly techniques. I also worked in the Antennas Lab, building and testing the antennas that astronauts wore on their extra-vehicular backpacks. (Antennas can be very tricky. One day one of the antennas I was testing was not performing properly. I cussed at it and then it started working. I’m not kidding!) During that time I studied electronics and after a year I received my certification as an electronic technician. Then I worked in Receiving Inspection at Ball, inspecting, testing and certifying incoming electronic parts. Then I was promoted to the Metrology Lab, testing, calibrating, certifying and repairing equipment used in aerospace electronics labs at Ball, other institutions and in space. I held a Confidential Security clearance and certifications for assembly, cleaning and static protection of aerospace flight electronics. I also designed and built some test fixtures and I wrote test procedures.
So what is the point of me describing all of my great accomplishments while I was employed at Ball Aerospace? It certainly is not bragging. I was a small player in a BIG game and I would only like to give the readers an idea of the enormity and the complexity of the business that is Ball Aerospace.
Much of the work we were doing at Ball Aerospace was for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and one of the projects I worked on was for IRAS (Infrared Astronomical Satellite), a cryogenically cooled space telescope. The project required that EVERY instrument and tool used had to be certified as accurate and complying with specifications. One day, one of the NASA inspectors shut the project down (temporarily) because a FLASHLIGHT had not been certified. As one might imagine, that caused a few arguments. Err, um, OK, more than a few arguments.
I also spent just a little time working in a giant anechoic chamber, a huge, very tall room that had literally every surface covered in sound absorbing materials for the purpose of working with antennas and any other source/receiver of energy. Imagine being in an environment that has absolutely no echo whatsoever. Such an environment simulates the sound behavior characteristics of space. Some people find that environment quite disturbing and creepy. The scientists who worked in the antennas department were considered “out there”.
I worked in “clean rooms” from time to time. Because in space, contaminants can be a real problem, adhering to, and affecting the behavior of electronic and especially optical devices, we had to be very conscientious in avoiding ANY contamination of objects that would end up in space. We avoided such contamination and we spent a great deal of time cleaning, using cleaning agents that would leave no residue. Whew - talk about being picky!
We could not take anything into a clean room that might be contaminated and that included ourselves. How would we accomplish that? We would enter a clean room and then put on clothing that was “clean” and then go from there into another clean room. The clothing consisted of booties, a sealed “bunny suit” with gloves, a head covering with a face mask, and if someone with a beard was dressing for the occasion, they would also wear what we called “face panties” to keep any beard hairs/particles from escaping. Respirators were in order and clothing was sealed with elastic and Velcro. To top it all off, we were grounded, through a sort of network of resistors to avoid any static charge from damaging sensitive electronic components. The resistor network was so that if any heavy current was present, we could not be short circuited and electrocuted easily.
The static protection I just described was pretty much standard practice when working with most equipment, in or out of clean rooms. You may have the impression that Ball Aerospace is a business that revolves around and depends upon technology for its existence. You would be correct, and you would also be correct in projecting that assumption upon much more of the technology with which we are surrounded today.
Check out some of the following references for more details: