Speaker Interview, Chris Johnson, Instrumentation Engineer at Experior Laboratories 

Now 2019 is here, we can start to look forward to Space Tech Expo in Pasadena, this May. chris johnson
The show has various focus areas, including testing, industry 4.0, and components, parts and assembly development. For our special feature on testing, we caught up with speaker Chris Johnson, instrumentation engineer at Experior Labs.

Chris has worked on a multitude of control, automation, and data acquisition applications requiring reliable custom software solutions ranging from long duration control, to mission-critical test programs. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering.



Hi Chris, could you please tell us about your role as instrumentation engineer at Experior Laboratories?

As an instrumentation engineer at Experior Labs I tend to wear a lot of different hats and am constantly working on new and exciting test programs. I spend the majority of my time developing, testing, and operating custom automated test and measurement systems to suit our customers’ needs in a wide variety of test applications. These can range anywhere from mission-critical, high-pressure confidence testing of pneumatically operated propulsion components, to long-duration extreme temperature thermal vacuum cycling of spacecraft electronics. This requires diligent planning and frequent customer interface and/or discussions throughout the duration of the test program. The goal is to develop a system that is robust enough to ensure successful operation and data acquisition during the test article’s simulated environment, but flexible enough to accommodate test specification changes and gracefully handle unforeseen results or anomalies that are a frequent occurrence in test engineering.


You will be presenting your talk ‘Optimized Pneumatic Test Assemblies for Qualification and Production Testing’ at the Open Tech Forum on Tuesday, May 21. It will highlight the challenges and considerations for modular pneumatic test systems. Why is this such an important topic for you to present on at this year’s show?

It is an exciting time to be an engineer in the aerospace industry right now, especially with the recent growth in the commercial space market as well as NASA with SLS and Orion, whom we support directly, plus their customer base. There has been a recent push for smaller spacecraft and, likewise, smaller components and subsystems. We are seeing a strong increase of small sat and launch vehicle propulsion technology start-ups to accommodate the recent demand and so I find this an exciting and highly relevant topic to present at this year’s Open Tech Forum.


Without revealing the content of your presentation, could you give a hint of some of the testing challenges you come across for these systems and how you handle those?

Test programs usually involve moving the test article through a sequence of simulated loads and environments (in other words, vibration, SRS shock, thermal vacuum, and others). A big challenge can be designing a test stand that can successfully operate in all these cases and accommodate any changes or test article failures that are common when going into test. I find that taking an iterative approach on a modular design is the best recipe for success. This helps to limit the unknowns, increase robustness, and provides a system that is easier to troubleshoot in anomaly investigations.


A shorter time to market seems to be picking up in the space industry. How has testing of spacecraft changed in the past couple of years to speed up this process? And where is there still room for improvement?

Yes, we have certainly witnessed a much shorter time to market approach by our customer, and test schedules are key for success. To our customers' advantage, Experior Laboratories has the management and staff that understands that need.  Second and third shift, as well as weekend work, became part of the status quo. Customers often arrive behind the 8-ball already and they require start and execution of their test campaign more or less immediately, and that's the type of support Experior Labs can provide. “We are here to get the job done” type of company culture is what management is fostering and developing with the engineering talent we have in-house.


In terms of industry news, what development, announcement, or otherwise has stood out most to you in the past year and why?

The boom in commercial space has been really exciting to watch, literally. I currently live in Santa Barbara, CA and often see launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The most memorable by far was SpaceX’s first attempt at landing its Falcon 9 booster back on the original landing pad, as opposed to its barge off the coast. The thrusters lit up all the gases in the night sky, a spectacular event. It felt like I was watching the Northern Lights right from my backyard. It’s exciting to be a part of the modern-day space race. 


We are looking forward to seeing you at the Open Tech Forum at Space Tech Expo. Can you tell us what you’re most looking forward to at the show?

I’m really looking forward to one-on-one discussions with prospective clients to hear more about their current and future testing needs to gain valuable insight into how we can support them. Experior Labs is heavily invested in expanding its space hardware testing capabilities. We recently finished construction on building 3, an 11,000 square foot, high bay structural dynamics laboratory equipped with two Unholtz-Dickie T4000 electrodynamic vibration systems, allowing us to test heavy and large orbital test articles. We will have a simulation test set up at our booth that demonstrates various elements into one test, which is based on the white paper that will be released as a more extensive version of my talk at the Open Tech Forum.

Want to see Chris's presentation? Join us at the Open Tech Forum on Tuesday, May 21, where Chris will be speaking on behalf of Experior Labs during the Testing Sessions.