SIP Interns 2022 Credit: NASA

National Intern Day: Meet the Interns Advancing Space Comm and Nav

By Kendall Murphy

July 28, 2022

This summer, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project (SIP) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, hosted 54 interns during its first hybrid internship session. Over the 10-week period, students worked with mentors to complete a summer project, bringing their own unique skillset to the Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division. These interns advanced the community’s work on projects like Delay/ Disruption Tolerant Networking, mathematics, quantum communications, mechanical engineering, and more. Learn more about some of ESC’s interns below.

Veena Sreekantamurthy, Low-Cost Optical Terminal

Veena Sreekantamurthy is a first-time SIP intern, pursuing a Master of Science in electrical engineering with a focus on radar tracking at the Pennsylvania State University. Sreekantamurthy’s interest in space began as a child through frequent visits to the Air and Space Museum with her father. She also attended STEM summer camps, enjoying the engineering aspects. During high school, she spent one summer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, shadowing engineers. There, she was exposed to the interesting work being done at NASA. For her senior capstone project at Virginia Tech, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree, Sreekantamurthy and her team designed CubeSat subsystems.

Now, Sreekantamurthy has completed her first summer as a NASA SIP intern. For her project, she worked with the Low-Cost Optical Terminal (LCOT) team and used trajectory data to measure how the degradation of orbit information is relevant to LCOT orbit predictions. In addition, she worked with another intern to perform market research on existing LCOTs that could support future missions in low-Earth orbit. Overall, her work will reduce optical project costs while making LCOTs more accessible and easier to use.

“My favorite part of this internship program is networking with other interns and mentors, and attending meet and greets and colloquiums,” said Sreekantamurthy. “I enjoy listening to my peers and learning more about other NASA projects, and I hope to maintain these connections beyond this internship.”

Sreekantamurthy hopes to have a future career at NASA advancing space technology.

Andrea Karina Vargas, Tracking and Data Relay Satellites

Andrea Karina Vargas, or Kari, another first-time SIP intern, is an undergraduate senior at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering with minors in computer engineering and mathematics. Her fascination with robotics in space and passion for aerospace is what brought her to NASA. This spring, Vargas landed a systems engineering internship working on state of health support for Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) at NASA’s White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Over the summer, Vargas measured the current and future readiness of the TDRS antenna's digital distribution system. Using Maximo – an asset management software – she conducted discrepancy reports to determine any changes or indicating failures. Vargas then created taxonomy diagrams in Microsoft Visio to visualize the health status of each system. Her work will ensure that the TDRS antenna’s digital systems continue to connect mission critical ground systems to users like the International Space Station.

“NASA has given me the opportunity to challenge myself to learn more about different areas of aerospace,” said Vargas. “I am thrilled to know that my system engineering knowledge, along with my work performed here with TDRS, will help further the team’s mission.”

After her graduation in 2023, Vargas plans to enter a master’s program in mechanical engineering.

Jeremy Quail, Near Space Network

First-time SIP intern Jeremy Quail is a third-year mathematical sciences Ph.D. student at the University of Vermont. During his undergrad studies, Quail took a combinatorics class and enjoyed the creativity in mathematical problem solving which inspired him to continue his studies in graduate school. Quail heard about SIP from another university student and the program caught his interest. This spring, Quail was accepted into the program and began building the theoretical foundations for modeling the Near Space Network.

NASA is taking programmatic steps towards establishing a Solar System Internet (SSI), which uses such protocols as Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN). Quail and his team matched these steps with technical advancements. Quail helped to fill in the blanks of DTN's foundations using advanced mathematics. He worked with the group to develop a geometry-based framework for the Near Space Network. Quail’s work lays the foundation for a space-based internet like LunaNet, and because his research yields actionable results, his new tools will enable deeper study of satellite networks and will inform future Near Space Network designs.

“Our project works toward the creation of a scalable space-based network that would enable efficient communications and navigation in near space and farther,” said Quail. “I am grateful for the opportunity to help NASA address the challenge of time-synchronization across a time-varying network. Our work here will complete the next step needed for communications on the Moon and beyond.”

Quail plans to continue his graduate research on mathematical objects called positroids through the lens of graph theory.

Carter Edmond, LunaNet

Returning SIP intern Carter Edmond is a rising senior at San Jose State University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in astronomy. He used his previous year’s SIP experience as a learning tool for new interns, helping them make connections, providing tips, and answering any questions they had about NASA. Edmond became passionate about computer programming during his freshman year of high school. Edmond’s love for computer science grew as he programmed simulations and worked with robotic software. Now, his internship allows him to expand his capabilities into performing simulations and configuring computer networks.

This summer, Edmond leveraged his previous summer's work with DTN and designed an operational demonstration to highlight LunaNet’s core features, including DTN. These features are crucial for LunaNet, an interoperable “internet” on the Moon that leverages new networking techniques and common standards. To create his demonstration, Edmond reviewed the LunaNet interoperability standards and planned out the operational concept using technical education satellites from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountainview, California. Edmond worked with subject matter experts at Goddard and Ames to decide which satellite would be the best fit to accommodate his experiment. His experiment’s results will advance LunaNet’s development by potentially offering a cost-efficient option to showcase key architectural features.

“I really enjoy helping out new interns,” said Edmond. “I was in their shoes last summer, and I like to use my knowledge to answer any questions my peers may have and to make them feel as welcome as possible.”

After graduation next year, Edmond plans to pursue a master’s degree in machine learning. 

Future Opportunities

While several of these students are first-time SIP interns, many interns often return to continue the work they started in their previous year or season. These interns offer NASA a new and fresh prospective and the continuation of projects allows the students to work alongside NASA employees completing impactful work.

SIP offers students a wide variety of opportunities to expand their career while furthering NASA’s mission. Not only have many of these interns walked away with an experience of a lifetime, but the opportunity to showcase their work to NASA experts. Additionally, several of SIP’s mentors started off in the program before beginning their careers as full-time employees.

Every intern contributes something outstanding to NASA, from those studying optical communications to engineering, all will walk away having left their mark on the agency.