How hard can it be?

There is one tongue-and-cheek thing we say about a Pegasus mission, which the North American Eagle (NAE) team has their own version:

“How hard can be it?”

While NAE is focused of racing near the speed of sound, the Pegasus Mission team is focused on delivering a global audience this dramatic event of fire and speed in real-time through research technologies. Our part is small in comparison to the NAE effort, but is also extremely challenging.

The difficulties are far beyond what a person using an app might expect. That is because we are dealing with a real-world situation and extreme circumstances, not a tightly constrained demo. Because of the realities of doing something live, in real-time, and not done before, it accentuates everything. A slight miscalculation, bad weather, wonky sensor, loss of Internet, or hardware malfunction, and the show is cancelled for the moment you have been preparing. All the man hours spent in preparation by a large team can be lost. That is the chance our team accepts and it is truly noble effort. The conditions that we are working limit your ability to test something. For example, you cannot setup a 9 mile WiFi network with someone else’s equipment to test connectivity, or test a device while undergoing extreme G-forces and speeds up to 700mph…it just not feasible. It is risky business to be public about these endeavors, but if we didn’t the audience could never witness an extraordinary event. This is the place where technology meets harm’s way, and it drives meaningful innovation.

The sensor package, camera, and display in the cockpit of the NAE weigh very little, but is takes nearly 800 lbs. of equipment, including a 500 lbs. satellite network, to get operationalized. There is networking to be done to get our Internet connection established, as well as the networking provided by the NAE to us to connect to the cockpit. There also end-2-end system testing to produce the results from runs. That is only the cost of admission. We must coordinate our drone flights with overhead airplane observations as well as follow (to the letter) all the safety protocols. Once we have established the operational frame, we must choreograph the event. Timing cannot be off by even a single minute; people must be in position up and down the run line and technology fully operational at the same time…stuff must work together at the right time.

The other invisible part of the Pegasus-NAE mission is logistics. The environment is a desert devoid on anything. You must take everything with you, food, water, restroom, equipment, etc. If you forget something, then it’s not available. The daily round trip to and from the hotel is 320 miles, not feasible to make a “quick” trip to pick up and odd or end. It is a guarantee that you will not have something you need at some point in time. Some of the most humorous moments can occur when forced to be resourceful…your war stories.

We try, and try hard, but success is still never a guarantee. This is the nature of pushing the envelope, of doing what has not been done before. When success is gained, it very earned. None of the Pegasus or NAE teams will receive any monetary benefit, in fact it will cost us financially. There will be no reward beyond the personal satisfaction of an accomplishment of something previously impossible. If our work inspires a single person to become a STEM explorer, that is reward enough.

God speed Ed Shadle and Jessi Combs, god speed.

Dare Mighty Things

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