Employee Spotlight: 'Crunchy Engineering' with Dave

April 27, 2020

Dave S. is an engineer at Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Space Systems facility in Durham, North Carolina, who most recently contributed to the development of a number of mechanisms that will fly on NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

A mechanical engineer by trade, he refers to what he does as, ‘crunchy engineering.’ We spent a little time with him learning exactly what he means by that, and what his favorite part of working on the Mars 2020 program has been.

What drew you to working at SNC?
SNC employees work on and deliver so many amazing technologies, crucial to the service of our government and commercial customers. The products that we provide, the passion of our owners, and the talented team in the Durham facility all combine to make SNC a great place to work.

You’re a mechanical engineer, but you say you do ‘crunchy engineering,’ can you explain?
At our facility in Durham, I’m lucky enough to do meaty, down-in-the-details design and analysis. This includes bearing and gear design and analysis, tolerancing and material selection, and structural and thermal analysis. A lot of analysis in a variety of categories.

What does a day in the life look like?
A day in the life of a mechanical engineer at SNC depends on what phase the program(s) are in that they are responsible for. Early on in a program, a lot of work is spent with our designers, ironing out the details of the proposed concept to produce a deliverable design.

Later in the program, we see our design come to life as our operations team begins to receive and assemble parts. Often, we are able to be with our technicians during the initial build to help address any issues that may arise.

Once assembled, we subject all flight hardware to a battery of acceptance tests in our facility prior to delivery. Our reputation in the space industry is built on prior successes, so each design also goes through a more thorough qualification test. The qualification unit will not fly but is taken to the maximum limits of loads and life.

You recently worked on designing and building mechanisms for NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. What did that project mean to you?
Having a part in designing mechanisms for the Perseverance Rover is fulfilling a childhood dream of helping create cutting edge machines. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is known for so many bold endeavors and this latest rover will be the most advanced machine we’ve landed on another planet.

What keeps you excited about your job each day?
I’ve come to understand that it’s a rare treat not only to be able to work as a mechanical engineer in the space industry, but also work from a computer design through assembly and test of the real flight hardware. Very thankful to be doing something I love.


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