Skip Roberts has worked as an engineer at Stennis Space Center for 20 years, which means he has been involved with numerous propulsion test projects.
That makes it understandably hard for him to point to a particular project or achievement as his proudest. “Each program comes with its own unique challenges to overcome,” said Roberts, a native of Thomasville, Georgia, and resident of Gautier, Mississippi.
Upon reflection, though, Roberts is able to settle on an answer. “It is the first time we light a new test article,” he said. “The expressions on people’s faces are priceless, knowing all of the hard work has finally paid off.”
Roberts has seen a lot of priceless expressions in his 20 years at Stennis. He arrived on site through a co-op program with the University of South Alabama. In 2000, he was hired as a test engineer, which enabled him to work on numerous projects. These included testing of both engine components and full-scale engines, from low-thrust engines to those powerful enough to launch space shuttle missions.
In 2010, Roberts began a two-year stint as test director on the A-2 Test Stand. During that time, he oversaw testing of the new J-2X engine, planned to provide upper stage propulsion for travel to deep space. Roberts even served as test conductor for the first J-2X engine hot fire.
He then served four years as test director for the E-1 Test Stand, where he shepherded several test projects. These included a series of tests on the AJ26 engines that initially powered commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station.
In 2016, Roberts was named a senior project engineer, which means he now provides technical assistance to managers of various test projects at Stennis. “During the test campaign, I monitor test results to ensure that the facility is performing as expected,” he said. “I also assist the New Business Office with testing concepts and configurations for companies coming to Stennis.”
Roberts recently has been involved with testing for NASA’s Artemis program to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. He assisted with installation of the first flight core stage of NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket on the B-2 Test Stand. Following a series of Green Run tests at Stennis, the stage will power the first Artemis I test mission.
Roberts is working with the core stage project engineer to address any issues that arise during integration of the stage on the stand. He also will assist with the core stage cold flow and hot fire tests. The latter will mark the culmination of the Green Run series and feature the simultaneous firing of the stage’s four RS-25 engines.
Roberts enjoys the ever-changing nature of the work. “It is always different,” he said. “I work with small startup companies and large rocket engine companies alike to help them develop their new hardware or improve their existing hardware.”
He also appreciates the workplace culture of Stennis. “The best way I can describe it is family,” he said. “Stennis has a very friendly atmosphere and people who believe in their job.”
For someone who grew up in the age of Star Wars and space shuttle missions, Roberts is understandably excited about the future of deep space exploration. He is proud to be a part of the team testing engines and propulsion systems that will power missions to the Moon and, eventually, Mars. This includes testing of 3D-printed engine components that look to revolutionize the production of deep-space engines and propulsion systems.
Roberts has been recognized for his work and contributions, having received a NASA Silver Snoopy honor for flight safety and mission success, as well as a NASA Exceptional Achievement Award for his leadership of the J-2X test project.
Away from Stennis, Roberts enjoys spending time with his “awesome” wife and two “amazing” daughters, and pursuing his scuba diving and spear fishing hobbies.
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