Our very own Chief Engineer of Space and Recovery Systems will receive the NASA Public Service Award tomorrow, August 28th, 2019. This is NASA’s highest form of recognition awarded to “those whose distinguished service, ability, or vision has personally contributed to NASA’s advancement of United States’ interests. The individual’s achievement or contribution demonstrates a level of excellence that has made a profound or indelible impact to NASA mission success, therefore, the contribution is so extraordinary that other forms of recognition by NASA would be inadequate.”
In Mr. Sinclair’s role, he has done an exceptional job as the lead for the design, manufacture, test, and integration of each of the parachute landing systems for the Orion Program, both Commercial Crew Program partners, and for the Blue Origin New Shepard Program. Being the lead designer for four human-rated parachute systems simultaneously, is an unprecedented accomplishment and Mr. Sinclair’s mark on human space flight is indelible.
For the aerospace industry, Mr. Sinclair has more than 35 years of direct recovery system design and manufacturing experience. This includes helping with the recovery system designs for many spacecraft/re-entry vehicle systems including Kistler K-1 Launch Vehicle, Ariane V, Huygens, and Beagle 2. Mr. Sinclair also served as a member of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Verification and Validation panel for the Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing System. In addition to these designs, Mr. Sinclair has been instrumental in the design and development of a number of military parachute systems.
For Orion Capsule Parachute Assembly System, Mr. Sinclair did an outstanding job as the lead of the Airborne design team for taking the system from preliminary design review, through critical design review, and into the final stages of certification for human space flight. Orion’s parachute system needed to be robust enough to ensure a safe landing for astronauts returning to Earth in the crew module at speeds exceeding 25,000 mph and a landing speed of 20 mph or less. Crew safety was the key to many of the design challenges Mr. Sinclair and his team faced and they were able to meet every challenge thrown at them. They were able to design the parachute system to withstand the failure of either one drogue or one main chute, and to ensure it could provide a secure landing in an emergency. From load challenges to pendulum swing issues, Mr. Sinclair and his team overcame every issue. The Orion parachute design was so robust that the main parachute system designs for both Commercial Crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, and Blue Origin were developed from that same design.
Overall, Mr. Sinclair has been a driving force in many parachute industry activities and is a recognized expert in his field. He has served as an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Technical Committee member, as a session chair at numerous conferences, as the General Conference Chair for the 2011 Dublin Conference, and as a Chairman of the Technical Committee from 2007 to 2009. He has written and presented numerous papers and has also served on the National Research Council of the National Academies. In 2015, he received the AIAA Theodor W. Knacke Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Award for lifetime achievements. Mr. Sinclair’s contributions to the aerospace community are such that for the next 25 years or more, whenever a U.S. human spacecraft returns to the earth, it will land on parachutes designed by Mr. Sinclair. What an amazing legacy!