From the Bunker: Control (Part 1 of 2 with Geoff Licciardello)


Geoff Licciardello hauls the control box out to the XCOR bunker.

Today we are breaking things up, and providing you the first part of a two-part interview…

This is the fourth in a series of posts “from the bunker,” interviews with the people behind the scenes at every hot fire and cold flow that takes place at XCOR. Today we continue our discussion about the role of Control, this time with engineer Geoff Licciardello. Geo  previously worked as Control on both the Lynx truss (5K18) and LOX pump tests, and currently works on all hydrogen program testing at XCOR.

Bryan Campen: We didn’t actually ask this in our first Control interview with Jeremy this week—what’s a control box?

Geoff Licciardello: A control box is the box that will remotely control the valves and every system on the test stand.

BC: When do you start your work as Control, a day ahead of tests?

GL: It depends on what we’ve been doing. If this is the first time we bring a stand online, usually we’ll have at least one day, sometimes more days, of shakedown testing before we run out to the bunker to do a real test. We’ll run through all the systems, do some simulated tests, maybe some cold flows to address any initial issues from new hardware before a new test.

But if it’s a mature system, sometimes it’s just “get everything ready to go,” then go out to the bunker for a test.

BC: What’s a shakedown?

GL: A shakedown is basically putting a stand through its paces and finding any issues with the stand. Basically you’re just putting the stand through all of its paces so that you can find any issues that come up and address them before it’s actually time to run the engine. It can be disruptive to a test if you have a simple error that could have been spotted earlier, one of those things that you can’t always fix in the field. Being able to find those problems ahead of time and then resolve them really saves a test day a lot of trouble.

BC: What’s the difference between a shakedown and a click test?

GL: So a click test is when we have the control box hooked-up to the stand and electrical power is up, but nothing else is enabled. We don’t have fluid in the tanks, we don’t have  pressure on the stand. We are essentially just checking each valve making sure that all our wiring is correct and that the correct valve on the stand will click long before we test.

So it’s a way of detecting electrical or wiring issues.

A shakedown is much more thorough—in a shakedown we run through things as close to doing a real test as possible, so that we can find every issue that may crop up in the field.

BC: How does Control integrate with the rest of the team?

GL: It’s really important for Control, Checklist and Red Team to have very good communication. During a test day, those are the three roles that are doing a lot of the work.

Checklist is making sure we go through the steps in the proper order.

Then Control and Red Team are the ones who are actually turning valves, running systems.

If there isn’t good communication, that leads to problems. So it is really important that everyone is on the same page.

Control is a lot of responsibility. I am the one right there with all the switches when it’s go-time. If something happens I have to be ready to react and I have to know the system very well because I am the one actually commanding things.  Control needs a good understanding of the system so that they know what actions will cause an issue or not.

More from Geo soon…

If you have questions or comments, you can ask them right here, or connect with us on Twitter or Facebook.