COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s space operations officers support warfighters with Army space capabilities, but one officer had the opportunity to expand his space knowledge during an internship with a commercial space company.
Cpt. Cole Cupit, space superiority capability developer, Army Capability Manager for Space and High Altitude, Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence, completed a Training with Industry fellowship program with Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) in Hawthorne, California, June 2019-June 2020.
“It was a great experience to be able to see the civilian space world and corporate America, and to see where it aligns with the military space world,” Cupit said.
He served as a mission integration engineer on the Commercial Crew Program Mission Management Team. The team’s efforts were crucial in the launch of the Crew Dragon Demo-2 spacecraft, which taxied two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in May.
“That was a pretty historic moment,” Cupit said. “It restored America’s human spaceflight capability. It was an exciting time to be working at SpaceX to say the least.”
Cupit said his internship gave him insight into the current commercial space industry, including its technology processes, business practices, corporate structure and culture, and management techniques.
During his internship, Cupit was responsible for qualification test plans and reports, and final verification reviews for more than 1,000 components on the Dragon Demo-2 spacecraft. He worked with NASA technical leads to resolve issues with the qualification of the Demo-2 Dragon vehicle, was certified as a mission control operator, and participated in crew/operator training events in preparation for the launch.
“As part of the Commercial Crew Program Mission Management Team, I got to work with both SpaceX and NASA engineers to qualify the spacecraft components for flight,” Cupit said. “We reviewed all test plans and reports and worked together to certify that every piece of the Dragon capsule would operate as expected and keep the astronauts safe on their way to the ISS.”
Cupit also contributed to the certification of the in-flight abort test that SpaceX and NASA conducted to validate the emergency abort capabilities of the Dragon capsule to separate from the Falcon-9 rocket.
He said the overall experience gave him a firsthand look into the Department of Defense acquisitions process from the perspective of the contractor. He learned the importance of taking the time to write requirements and contracts, in order to build the best collaboration between the government and contractors, which will allow them to deliver the best solutions to warfighters.
Cupit, originally from Nagodoches, Texas, graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. He has been a space operations officer for four years of his 10-year Army career.