From left to right: Katie Reddy, Michael Moy, Lindsay White Credit: NASA
SIP 

NASA Interns Impact Projects All Around the Agency

By Kendall Murphy

October 14, 2021

NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project closed out another successful summer season. SIP interns across the agency rose to the challenge of a virtual workplace to complete impactful projects related to space communications and navigation. For over a decade, SIP has hosted students in high school to those working on their doctorate.

Lindsay White, Electrical Engineering

Lindsay White, getting her Master’s in electrical engineering at the University of California San Diego, completed her fourth summer as an intern for Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. White’s journey to NASA began in high school, where she was a member of her school’s amateur “ham” radio club. As part of the club, she attended the Small Satellite Conference where she was introduced to NASA engineers. This experience opened White’s eyes to the importance of radios and communications in space exploration, and later inspired her to apply to NASA internships as a college student.

This summer, she implemented a novel demodulation algorithm for testing in a real-time hardware testbench, which is an important step before the algorithm could be used on a spacecraft. The algorithm is designed to be part of a receiver for optical communications, which uses infrared light to send more data per second between ground stations and satellites than comparable radio frequency systems. The algorithm was originally developed on a computer using a software programming language.

The hardware testbench is comprised primarily of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which are hardware circuits that users can program to carry out different operations using hardware programming languages. Hardware programming languages are very different from software programming languages, so White’s task was to convert the original algorithm into a version that can be run and tested in the hardware testbench.

“Over the past four years, I’ve really enjoyed how much I’ve learned,” said White. “These past two years in particular, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone of software programming to learn about the world of hardware programming. It’s wild how much can be done with an FPGA if you can learn how to ‘think’ the way they do.”

After she graduates in June 2022, White hopes to continue working with NASA to develop innovative technologies. In her spare time, White likes to use her ham radio license to work on hobbyist projects and is learning to surf.

Katie Reddy, Applied Mathematics

First-time SIP intern Katie Reddy is working toward a Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics at San Diego State University and was accepted into the program earlier this year. Reddy spent her summer working remotely for SCaN at NASA Headquarters in Washington, and used her mathematics skills to learn about quantum – the smallest possible discrete unit of any physical property - to complete her project.

Reddy’s goal was to use quantum theory to help her team develop more efficient and secure ways of communicating in space. She studied quantum foundations in an effort to identify potential resolutions to theoretical discourse, using quantum information science to practically apply these theories. In particular, she focused on the Wigner analysis of coupled oscillators.

“Wigner functions help us predict the physical behavior of objects within a system of simple harmonic oscillators, such as position and momentum,” said Reddy. “The quantum entanglement of such a system is particularly interesting because quantum entanglement is the backbone behind any quantum information channel.”

While completing her summer project, Reddy has improved her technical and communications skills. She hopes to use this experience to help others learn and communicate about quantum theory.

“Quantum theory has been widely-debated for nearly a century now, so I hope my research contributes to a better understanding of quantum theory and how it relates to physical reality,” said Reddy.

Michael Moy, Mathematics

Michael Moy is a doctoral student studying mathematics at Colorado State University. He just completed his second summer as a SIP intern for Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. It was Moy’s passion for applied mathematics that brought him to NASA.

This summer, Moy worked to improve a method within Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) called contact graph routing (CGR), an experimental algorithm used for networking in space. He investigated CGR to find out what data structures encompass the data transmission routes in a space network based on DTN, and then put it into code and tested it.

“The end goal is to use DTN so NASA can efficiently network in space, and using applications of math to achieve it,” said Moy.

Aside from the experience itself, Moy’s biggest takeaway from the past two summers was learning how to conduct research. Now, he’s looking at interesting ways math shows up in practical applications. Moy plans to graduate with his doctorate in 2024.

Future Opportunities

SIP offers students incredible opportunities to broaden their skills, experience, and connections they need to thrive in the workplace while completing projects that further NASA’s mission. In addition, many who have participated the internship program have been given the opportunity to join the NASA workforce full-time.

Whether it be new or returning students, all bring a fresh perspective to the program and take away an experience of a lifetime.