Helen Park is an Active Duty U.S. Air Force Major and a Project Manager supporting the Space Portfolio at the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) in Mountain View, California. Prior to joining DIU, Maj. Park served as the Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant General John Thompson, Commander of Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California.
Why did you want to work at DIU?
I wanted to come to DIU because I was excited about DIU’s mission to accelerate the adoption of commercial technology across the DoD. After experiencing working in a program office for a major defense acquisition program, and the bureaucracy that comes with it, the idea of executing smaller prototype projects with non-traditional defense contractors was refreshing and intriguing.
What problem are you currently working to solve?
I am currently the project manager for our Responsive Launch projects, where we are prototyping commercial solutions for low-cost, responsive access to space, to precisely place spacecraft into their mission-designed Low-Earth orbit. We are partnered with the Rocket System Launch Program and the DoD Space Test Program, and we have agreements with Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit National Systems, Astra, SpinLaunch, Relativity Space, and ABL Space Systems.
Maj. Park visiting Virgin Orbit facility with USD R&E Heidi Shyu, November 2022. (Courtesy photo)
What are you currently inspired by in your work at DIU?
I am truly inspired by the innovation in technology development and manufacturing advancements to push the state of the art. I’m also in awe of the resilience demonstrated by the companies we work with —they continue to make improvements to their products and systems, all while operating in a very volatile environment.
What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading “Becoming,” by Michelle Obama, and I love it because I find it very relatable and inspiring as a woman of color, mother, and professional. It’s difficult to navigate a male-dominated profession and balance motherhood, all while feeling guilty that I’m not able to give my 100 percent to everything, so this book makes me feel like I’m not alone - and reminds me that relationships are the most important above all.
What are you currently celebrating / what have been some recent wins for your team?
Relativity Space recently conducted their first launch of their Terran 1 rocket and met their goal of getting through Max-Q and also achieved stage separation, so that’s a huge accomplishment for the entire Relativity team!
I’m also excited about Astra’s upcoming Spacetech Day, where they will showcase their progress on Launch System 2, and their new Astra Spacecraft Engine production facility.
Rocket Lab has had two successful missions from their LC-2 at Wallops Island, enabled by the autonomous flight termination system, which is a major milestone in itself.
ABL Space Systems was recently awarded a Strategic Funding Increase Program (STRATFI) for tactically responsive space demonstrations using their RS1 launch vehicle and mobile infrastructure.
SpinLaunch completed their suborbital test campaign with 10 of 10 successful launches using their 33-meter mass accelerator, and they debuted their new line of satellite bus products, which complements their low-cost, high-cadence mass accelerator launch technology.
Virgin Orbit established their U.K. spaceport, conducting the first launch from European soil, and despite the unfortunate second stage failure, they pioneered the process and are ready to do it again. Their anomaly resolution board is finalizing their investigation and are ready to return to flight.