SCaN, SIP, NSN, Profile 

From Carpenter to Communications Engineer: NASA Intern Darius Dale Enhances Near Space Network Ground Systems

By Kendall Murphy

July 29, 2021

2021 SIP Intern Darius Dale Credit: NASA

As a child growing up in Berlin, Maryland, Darius Dale built imaginative worlds and towering structures with LEGO bricks. Now, he’s helping NASA build the space communications networks of tomorrow as a summer 2021 intern.

Before beginning his first college semester at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) in the fall, Dale is enjoying a summer at NASA as part of the highly competitive Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project (SIP) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. SIP prepares interns like Dale with the skills, experience, and connections they need to thrive in the workplace while supporting projects that further NASA’s mission.

“I looked at the application and thought, ‘I’m not going to get this job — it’s top notch,’” said Dale. “After I received my acceptance email, I knew that this was my next step in life. Aerospace engineering is what I want to do, and I want to be successful.”

During his sophomore year of high school, Dale tackled a carpentry course as an extracurricular activity at a local technical high school. Dale enjoys doing things with his hands and building anything technical, especially figuring out what is wrong with something and how to fix it. These are tasks engineers do regularly, and Dale tries to apply as much of it as possible to his daily life.

This past June, Dale graduated from Snow Hill High School on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A month before graduation, his principal suggested he apply for NASA’s internship program because it would be a great opportunity for him, noting that his skillful hands and passion for building would make him a good engineer. He took a leap of faith, built his resume, and applied. Two weeks later, he received his acceptance email after being selected from the nationwide application pool.

Dale is spending his internship with the Near Space Network (NSN) project. The NSN is a single, end-to-end network that orchestrates communications services for missions through a blend of government and commercial providers. Space communications has played a critical role in NASA missions since the beginning of spaceflight, connecting scientists on Earth to the data collected from missions in space. Space communications uses radio frequency bands like Ka-band, S-band, and X-band, all part of the electromagnetic spectrum. On Earth, there are advanced ground stations that use these bands to forward command requests to spacecraft while also collecting tracking, telemetry, and science data from mission spacecraft.

For his summer project, Dale is tracking communications between antennas and spacecraft and performing a system-level link budget analysis. A link budget is an arithmetic assessment of the various factors that contribute to and detract from the power and fidelity of radio frequency signals between spacecraft and ground stations. This will help communication engineers quickly analyze end-to-end communication link performance and help design ground stations and spacecraft communication systems.

In addition to completing his summer project, Dale is learning the basics of engineering. He’s overcoming problems and learning the best way to troubleshoot issues while enhancing his critical thinking abilities. He also hopes to further his professional skills and mold his future career path with this internship.

So far, Dale said this internship has taught patience, communication, trust, and responsibility. Waiting for his internship supplies brought him patience, building the relationship between him and his mentor yielded communication skills and trust, and having such an important internship demonstrated responsibility. In addition, he has enjoyed getting to know the other interns and learning about their projects.

Aside from the internship, Dale likes to cook, sing, ride his longboard, and take afternoon bike rides. He is looking forward to the fall semester, when he’ll be close to Ocean City, Maryland, and a tub of popcorn on the boardwalk.