Profile: Andrea Amram, General Manager, Environmental Satellite Systems Division

The Art of Designing and Building Complex Space Systems

A 30-year career, motivation, and a willingness to learn and try new opportunities have exposed Andy Amram to many areas of The Aerospace Corporation.

Book iconFirst published May 2013, Crosslink® magazine

The Aerospace Corporation is highly regarded for its systems architecture and engineering work to ensure the successful design, production, and operation of space systems. A key player in this arena is Andrea (Andy) Amram, who has worked at Aerospace for nearly 30 years, dedicating the last 15 to the development of complex space systems architectures. As general manager of the Environmental Satellite Systems Division, Amram leads an organization that supports the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base. These groups work to create solutions for the modernization of national security space missions, which the leadership uses to make acquisition decisions based on performance, transition efficiencies, resiliency, robustness, and affordability. Architecture analyses and development planning serves as a decision-support framework, linking space system needs to system capabilities, acquisition alternatives, and enabling technologies.

amram_profileAmram’s career has gone in many interesting directions, during which she has been eager to seize opportunities and acquire new knowledge. As a young adult, she earned a bachelor of science degree in zoology and a master’s degree in education from the University of Michigan. She then relocated to California to work for a nonprofit organization, and later worked in the oil industry as a chemist, primarily because of former experience in operating scanning and transmission electron microscopes. When that company moved to Colorado, Amram stayed in California, accepting a job with Northrop Electronics and then Aerospace, where she performed failure analysis on hybrid microcircuits. Along the way she earned a certificate in electrical engineering and was promoted to manager, Technology Verification Section, in 1989.

Amram has steadily risen through the ranks to her current position. She attributes this successful journey to several good mentors and a lot of hard work. “I’ve had numerous people selflessly devote their energies to show me the way,” she said. The late Murry Glick, who had been a director in the Engineering and Technology Group, was the first to take Amram under his wing. He encouraged her to further her education in engineering. Glick introduced Amram to Nickie Nelson, now retired, who was working in a program office at the time. Nelson provided Amram with broad exposure to systems engineering concepts.

“She took me to a ground station and let me experience exactly what we were building, and showed me how it was used and operated. This gave me the motivation I needed to return to school to complete my master’s degree in systems engineering and architecture.” Coincidentally, John Parsons, then senior vice president of the Engineering and Technology Group, was recruiting candidates to participate in Aerospace’s first Systems Architecture and Engineering Certificate Program with the University of Southern California (USC) School of Engineering. Amram was selected as one of the first five Aerospace employees to complete a master’s degree in the program, working half-time while attending classes full-time.

“I was very fortunate to have Eberhardt Rechtin, former president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation and founder of the systems architecture program at USC, as my advisor and mentor. He taught me that systems architecting is as much an art as a science, and he pushed me to be creative and innovative while not forgetting my electrical engineering roots. Since then, the systems architecting field has matured, applying many software architecture methods to establish analytical rigor to its analysis methods,” Amram said.

When she graduated from USC, Amram relocated to the East Coast as one of three individuals selected by Aerospace to assist Maj. Gen. Robert S. Dickman in establishing the National Security Space Architect’s (NSSA) office, a new office chartered to develop next-generation military space systems. “My first assignment was to work on developing concepts for what became the military satellite communications architecture that is in operation today.” Amram credits Dickman with teaching her how decisions were made in Washington, and how to present complex technical material to nontechnical people.

Amram returned to California after a year and a half to the position of director, Electrical and Electronic Systems Department. In 2001, she was promoted to principal director of the Architecture and Design Subdivision. During her tenure in this position, Amram helped transition the Aerospace Concept Design Center into a corporate core resource for architecting space systems concepts. She and her team have now completed more than 200 system architecture studies at the center.

Amram’s willingness to take on challenges and new responsibilities and to seize opportunity has served her well. One new learning challenge came when Aerospace President and CEO Wanda Austin (who was at that time senior vice president of the Engineering and Technology Group) recommended to the Aerospace board of trustees that Amram be elected chair of the Aerospace Savings Account Plan, which is one of the company’s retirement plans. The board agreed, and Amram served as its chair for nine years. “This opportunity introduced me to the business side of Aerospace and heightened my awareness to the complexity of maintaining affordable and attractive corporate benefits,” she said.

In 2008 she was promoted to her current position and began collaborating with Inki Min, principal engineering specialist, on a corporate decision support framework and architecting a corporate strategic initiative to strengthen Aerospace’s capabilities at performing portfolio-level decision-support analyses. During the last four years this has involved the development of analysis tools and processes that are described in two articles in this issue of Crosslink: “The Architecture Design and Evaluation Process” and
“Development Planning and Decision Support.”

Today, through the establishment of the Space Systems Group Architecture Council, Amram is working to assist Aerospace’s customers in creating, managing, coordinating, and publishing mission-area architecting work products such as the core function master plan and integrated planning process documents, and an analysis of alternatives for the recent navigation, weather, and overhead persistent infrared systems studies.

The task of fielding complex space systems consists of two main phases: defining the next generation of space
systems required for national security space, followed by the design, building, deployment, and operation of those systems. While historically Aerospace has been strong in “front-end” work (GPS is a prime example), more recently Aerospace has emphasized the “back end” to support the production, integration, testing, launch, and early operations of a new generation of DOD space systems.

“Many of these DOD missions are now operational, and Aerospace is engaged in a strategic shift to recast its workforce to support its customers in the daunting challenge of rearchitecting space through the modernization of existing systems while cutting costs. Thus, the company is embarking on another cycle of space architecture development. The corporation will transition people from testing and integration to system definition and design,” Amram explained. “The work of Developmental Planning and Architectures comes in front of the design phase. So we are asking, ‘What should we be building next?’ ”

Amram credits the influence of her parents, who stressed the importance of education, as a vehicle to achieving financial security and independence. “My parents scrimped and saved to send my brother and me to college. My father, who could speak six languages by the age of nineteen, earned his opportunity to emigrate from Casablanca to the United States by working as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in North Africa during World War II,” she said.

The skills she learned in her biology and engineering classes led to a lifelong passion to study complex systems, which today range from creatures in the ocean to satellite systems launched into space. One of her hobbies is scuba diving. She and her husband, Richard Boucher, senior engineering specialist, Visible and Infrared Sensor Systems Department, take vacations diving around the world.

Over the years, Amram has been impressed by the versatility of available work experiences at Aerospace. “Aerospace has given me so many wonderful opportunities to participate in the myriad facets of designing and building complex space systems. Aerospace is unique in the industry with its role in understanding what complex systems our customers need to manufacture, and matching that with what the industry is capable of building.” Her advice to young members of the technical staff reflects her own choices: “Take advantage of the variety of work available at Aerospace. Challenge yourself to work hard at new things to be successful. Find your strengths and do not get ‘hung up’ on climbing the corporate ladder. Seek out opportunities that will motivate you to work hard. Being successful at a job and doing it well is the best recipe for moving forward.”

– Donna Born

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