Dr. Lonnie Labonte:

From Orono to Titan: The Journey of a UMaine Engineer at NASA

Lonnie graduated from Mountain Valley High School in Western Maine in 2009 where he enjoyed skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. Lonnie joined the EE program at UMaine the following fall. Lonnie immediately took an interest in hardware and electronics design. During a Signals and Systems class with Dr. Abedi, the professor said “If anybody would like an internship with NASA please come to my office after class”. This was a life changing moment for Lonnie as he was the only one to take him seriously. Dr. Abedi worked hard to get Lonnie funding through Maine Space Grant Consortium, and Lonnie found a position at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL where he worked on a concept design for a next gen Solar Sail.

After returning to UMaine Lonnie was convinced by Dr. Abedi to pursue a PhD through the WiSe-Net Lab and 2 interesting projects. Lonnie’s research on wireless control systems as they apply to rockets was a collaboration with Cal State Long Beach and led to a rocket launch with WiSe-Net hardware as a payload. The other project was a Wireless Leak Detection device for space crafts was sent to the ISS to collect data.

During graduate school Lonnie earned a pathways internship at NASA Goddard Space Flight center where he worked as an electronics design engineer on multiple projects, the first of which was a low-cost star tracker, and the other was a test engineer for Kodiak a LiDAR used for in orbit autonomous rendezvous and docking.

After obtaining his doctorate from UMaine in 2017, Lonnie was transitioned to a full time employee by NASA GSFC and continued work on LiDARs. The Kodiak work continued and is currently going through flight hardware board builds and test unit integration. Lonnie has since been promoted to a Box lead of a smaller LiDAR: this LiDAR is called Ocellus and will be used on Dragonfly.