Out of This World

LSU ME Alumnus Sibley Contributes to Mars Landing

July 26, 2019

Garrett Sibley posing with four astronautsBATON ROUGE, LA – Since graduating from LSU’s College of Engineering in 2017, Garrett Sibley has worked on projects that are out of this world.

Set to receive his master’s in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology via distance learning this summer, Sibley is also working as a thermodynamics engineer at United Launch Alliance in Denver, a rocket manufacturer that is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space and Security.

Sibley discovered the position at ULA through the LSU career portal and applied for an internship. His favorite ME classes at LSU were thermodynamics and fluid dynamics, not surprising considering his current position at ULA.

“I have always wanted to work in aerospace, and short of becoming an astronaut, ME was the best way to do it,” said Sibley, a native of Lafayette, La.. “I have always had an interest in tinkering as a kid.”

That tinkering has led to a full-time job helping pressurize rocket tanks for NASA’s InSight Mars Lander and the ULA-designed Atlas V human-rated rocket, which is scheduled to launch later this year and travel to the International Space Station.

“The best way to describe ULA is that we’re like a shipping company to space,” Sibley said. “A customer will want to launch a satellite to a specific orbit and our team steps in to ensure the mission goes as expected. The bulk of my work is around mission integration.”

Sibley also provides launch support, assists design engineers when sizing equipment and works with the reaction control system to keep the rocket’s stages stable in flight.

“We sit on console for these launches, watching data (mostly pressures, valves, temperatures) and making sure [the rocket is] doing what we expect,” he said. “We do a ton of checks. It’s always a good feeling watching the data come in and seeing it do exactly what we want it to do.”

Sibley was on the console for the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission, which launched on May 5, 2018, and involved a robotic lander designed to study the deeper interior of Mars. It reached the Red Planet on November 26, 2018. The project, totaling $828 million, was one of the missions in which Sibley worked the mission integration cycle.

Other successfully launched missions he was involved with include GOES-S, SBIRS-GEO-4, AFSPC-11, and AEHF-4.

ULA’s next mission will be the AEHF-5 (Advanced Extremely High Frequency), launched with the Atlas V 551 rocket and slated to take place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida no earlier than August 8, 2019. This mission will mark the 80th Atlas V mission since its inaugural launch in 2002.

“We have two rocket lines, almost three—Atlas, Delta and Vulcan,” Sibley said. “Vulcan Centaur is the new rocket we’re developing right now. It has a higher capacity than the current Atlas and Delta.”

Sibley is also working on a NASA mission that will send a commercial crew to the ISS aboard a Boeing-built CST-100 Starliner capsule, which will launch on an Atlas V rocket. The Atlas V Starliner mission is slated for August 2019.

Upon graduating with his master’s in August, Sibley would like to continue his work with ULA and feels there’s potential to move up, though he’s perfectly happy with his current line of work.

“Every time a rocket goes up, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “ULA is a fast-paced interesting place to work.”


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Contact: Libby Haydel

Communications Specialist