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  • Writer's pictureRhea Space Activity

RSA's Brilliant Minds: Josh Baumann

Updated: Apr 2

For someone almost always holding a cup of coffee, Josh Baumann ironically brings a calming presence to Rhea Space Activity.


He is a guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) engineer supporting the design, development, testing, and implementation of GNC systems for various applications.


"GNC engineers essentially help vehicles answer the questions: 'Where am I now?' 'Where am I going?' and 'How do I get there?'" said Baumann.


At RSA, he serves a vital role as the lead GNC engineer for the company's autonomous navigation product, the Jervis Autonomy Module (JAM).


However, GNC engineering wasn’t his first career choice. Despite having an intrigue for the arts, he quickly learned he didn’t have a creative bone in his math and physics-oriented body. 


Baumann presenting a conference paper on Standalone Commercial OPNAV for Deep Space Operations at the 46th Guidance, Navigation and Control Conference in Breckenridge, Colorado. 


JAM provides autonomous guidance and navigation, allowing a spacecraft to determine its orbit and location in space using images of celestial objects rather than by using GNSS or contacting other satellites or ground stations on Earth.


Baumann is responsible for managing JAM's continuous product development with two lunar missions currently slated for 2026.


Despite having an intrigue for the arts, he quickly learned he didn’t have a creative bone in his math and physics-oriented body.


Where Am I Going


Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, Baumann was drawn to toys that allowed him to build and design.


"I enjoyed going to space museums and built a lot of model airplanes and played with Legos and Lincoln Logs," said Baumann. "I was always kind of a dork."



Baumann dressed up as a Penn State Nittany Lion for Halloween as a child. 


Although he aspired to become an architect in high school, he soon recognized his skills were best suited for engineering.


"I realized that I was good at math and physics and probably not as creative as you need to be to be an architect," he said. "So, I thought I wanted to be an architectural engineer since it seemed adjacent."


Baumann would change his mind again after shadowing an architectural engineer the summer before he entered college.


"I shadowed a guy for a day and after we spent four hours looking at how he decided to make a bunch of beams attach to a ceiling I thought, 'Absolutely, not for me,'" he said.


Unlike many young people, Baumann's next thought was to pursue the most challenging thing he could imagine.



Baumann visiting NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he'd eventually get his first job out of college.


"I thought about what my interests were, looked around, and asked myself, 'What's the hardest thing I could do?' and aerospace engineering seemed like a good fit," he said.


How Do I Get There


Baumann attended Penn State University where he continued his pursuit of aerospace engineering and, by chance, discovered a passion for GNC engineering during his sophomore year.


"I showed up to a meeting for a student-run CubeSat lab, not really knowing what I was getting into," he said. "I thought that the GNC subsystem work seemed cool, so my buddy and I signed up for it and got very involved with the lab."


Since the lab was not run by the aerospace department, Baumann taught himself many aspects of GNC engineering before learning it in a classroom.


"It was funny; we were self-trained," he said. "And then when we started learning about it in class, my friend and I said, 'Hey, we already know how to do a lot of this.' After that, I never stopped pursuing GNC engineering work."

 

Baumann graduating from Penn State in 2016.


After graduation, Baumann and his close-knit group of friends relocated to Washington, DC, where he continued his GNC career, working on commercial resupply missions for the International Space Station with Northrop Grumman.


"I did that for quite a while and got to fly seven missions," he said. "I got to lead my subsystem’s operations for a couple of the missions and do some experimental work support secondary mission objectives. It was an established product line where I got to see what good processes should look like and work on cool, new, exciting things because they were always trying to make the vehicle better. After that, I was offered a position to be the GNC analysis lead for our segment of the national team’s human landing system."


Baumann on NASA TV working Cygnus mission operations as GNC-1. You can also see the missions on the wall that were in orbit at the time (NG-11 and NG-12).


Baumann continued his GNC career assisting in the development of ESPAStar, a modular, cost-effective and highly capable infrastructure resource for hosting technology development and operational payloads. 


"I did a lot of work standing up a new ESPAStar product line and got to see it through to critical design review," he said.


Baumann's passion for navigation would eventually lead him to his next intellectual adventure with RSA.


Where Am I 


Drawn to RSA's revolutionary optical navigation product, JAM, Baumann joined RSA in February 2022.


"I thought that the idea of commercializing optical navigation was really interesting and paradigm shifting for how we get around between Earth and the Moon and the rest of the solar system," he said. "We all live in a world where GPS satellites are orbiting us at all times. We can pull out our phone and know exactly where we are. But most people don't realize that that's something that we only have here on Earth. The moment you leave Earth's immediate orbit, even if you just go to the Moon, you don't have that luxury anymore.”


Building a bolt-on navigation capability like JAM that allows product developers to control their own fate in space was also appealing to him.


“You don’t have to wait on some gigantic infrastructure to be laid ahead of you,” he said. “JAM can be bolted on to a satellite and used right away.”


Recognizing Baumann’s natural ability to connect with people, RSA’s leadership has provided Baumann with opportunities to work on skills outside of engineering.


“I’ve had the opportunity to develop a lot of the soft skills that you don’t typically get as an engineer,” he said. “I do business development-type stuff and go to conferences, meet a lot of people, and learn about what other people are doing. It's been beneficial to meet new people and learn about the bleeding edge of technology in our field."


Baumann continues his quest to pursue the most challenging thing he can think of and is currently pursuing a master's degree in Space Systems Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.


"It's a lot more than GNC engineering and looks at developing spacecraft and components from a holistic, system-view approach," he said. “As someone with a GNC subsystem engineering background, I was drawn to a program that I felt would make me more well-rounded. It’s an opportunity to learn about every piece of the spacecraft.”


Baumann and members of the RSA team visit Diddly Squat Farm in the UK. 


But it's not all about engineering for Baumann. When asked what he likes most about his job at RSA, he says it's about the people.


“I like the people and the culture a lot," he said. "I think that we have a good thing going here. We work really hard, but we also have fun doing it. I think a lot of companies say that, but it's rare that you actually find that experience."

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