Systems engineering alumnus launches next step in aerospace career

Josh Panning’s work with United Launch Alliance is saving lives. His team works on a project called the Emergency Detection System, which automatically requests an abort-and-jettison of a spacecraft capsule during an emergency, taking astronauts aboard to safety. Later this year, the system will begin flights on commercial crew missions of the Atlas V launch vehicle with the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.

Expanding skillset

Josh Panning and fiancée
Josh Panning with his fiancée on graduation day.

Panning is a certified responsible engineer for the Emergency Detection System. It’s a title he earned earlier this year and attributes to his master’s degree in systems engineering from Colorado State University. Every aspect of a launch vehicle must be designed, manufactured and tested against a stringent set of requirements to maintain mission success. Panning, who graduated from CSU in May, decided that an expanded understanding of systems could elevate his career.

“I saw on the job how critically important and rewarding a systems-level approach to project development was, especially in an industry as unforgiving as launch vehicles,” said Panning.

Accessible education for Denver industry

Because United Launch Alliance partners with CSU’s Systems Engineering Program, courses are more accessible for employees, as they’re held on the company’s South Denver campus. The Denver location takes advantage of the area’s industry representation that could benefit from systems engineering education. Panning was grateful for the opportunity to engage in face-to-face learning and classroom discussion, although courses are also offered online.

“Learning from these talented individuals who have ‘walked the walk’ in their respective fields was incredibly valuable,” said Panning.

From introductory electrical engineer to certified responsible engineer in just two years, Panning’s career is a testament to the practical application of the Systems Engineering Program.

“I feel like I have a much better grasp over the full system life cycle,” said Panning. “I believe this degree will open up some exciting opportunities for me throughout my career.”