NASA intern Ryan Aridi designs a logo for his team's mission. Credit: NASA/Megan Miller
SCaN intern project, internship 

Space Communications Interns Design and Pitch Hypothetical Missions

By ​Danny Baird

June 11, 2019

Creativity powers NASA innovation. To inspire the next generation of NASA professionals, the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project (SIP) at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides students in the program with unique professional development opportunities that cultivate creativity.

Key among these opportunities, the Innovation Bootcamp teams students together for activities designed to engage their creativity and facilitate collaboration. For this year’s activity on June 6, SIP interns walked through a full-day mock mission design process at the Goddard Information and Collaboration Center (GIC2).

“We take a holistic approach to our intern program,” said Jimmy Acevedo, SIP coordinator at Goddard. “We provide students with varied opportunities to grow and learn, interspersing the summer’s technical work with professional development and networking events.”

Each team of interns divided their members into seven lead engineering roles: power systems, mechanical, telecommunications, propulsion, ground support and chief scientist/principal investigator. Interns also selected team members to act as risk management professionals and mission managers. The teams then designed and pitched a conceptual NASA mission. Over a series of reviews, a panel of NASA employees assessed the pitches for their technical content, ability to identify risks, creativity and the professionalism of the team.

“We challenge the interns with a resource based game,” said communications engineer George Bussey, who developed the activity, “but the real goal is to have the interns tell a story – to sell us on the purpose and importance of their mission.”

The judging panel awarded imaginary funds to teams at various points throughout the day to enhance their existing mission concept. Teams without enough funding to complete their mission needed to de-scope elements in order to pass various milestones. Additionally, teams had to spin the ‘Wheel of Misfortune,’ wherein a team might encounter an anomaly. Teams who had not adequately documented their risks had a proportionately higher chance of an anomaly occurring.

“The competition was extremely fun, especially if you took it seriously and tried to win,” said Shailesh Murali. “I think it was a great way to get to know other people and learn useful concepts.”

After a final review, Bussey tabulated the scores. Meanwhile, the judges conferred on the quality and creativity of the teams’ pitches. Then, Bussey and Acevedo announced three winning teams.

Best Numerical Score: MeMeS/COMS
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This team envisioned a science satellite, Methane Measurement Satellite (MeMeS), in tandem with a series of smaller satellites, the Constellation of Ozone Monitoring Satellites (COMS), to provide climate models with additional data. Overall, their mission hoped to better NASA’s understanding of Earth’s changing climate in service to U.S. national security.

Melissa Moreno, New Mexico State University

Christopher Bosso, University of Buffalo

Meghna Sitaram, University of Maryland, College Park

Daniel Manley, University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Jacob Plowman, University of Wyoming

Georges Kanaan, University of Toronto

Best Teamwork/Collaboration: Operation Hephaestus
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This team envisioned a lunar-orbiting satellite in tandem with a lander. The lander would drill for water ice, then break it into hydrogen and oxygen – both of which can be used as rocket fuel. The satellite would act as a communications relay, facilitating data transference between the lander and mission operations centers on Earth.

Emily Cavanagh, New York University

Nikola Novakovic, University of Illinois at Chicago

Adam Boylston, University of Colorado Boulder

Jeremiah Parker, Morgan State University

Shailesh Murali, University of Maryland, College Park

Ryan Aridi, Michigan State University

Sihan Xu, Central New Mexico Community College

Best Presentation/Pitch: Poseidon
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This team envisioned a lunar-orbiting satellite in tandem with a lander. The satellite would prospect for water ice, finding an ideal spot for a sustained human presence on the Moon. The lander would identify the properties of the water ice, providing future exploration missions to the Moon with vital data about its composition.

Alec Meade, Harvard University

Fernando Jauregui, Capitol Technology University

Henry Byers, University of Maryland, College Park

Drew Hamrock, University of Virginia

Christian Rivera, Universidad de Puerto Rico Bayamón

Nathan Shreve, Washington University in St. Louis

Garrett Burrows, University of Wyoming

For more information about SIP, follow this link. To create a profile and apply to NASA internships across the agency (including SIP), visit intern.nasa.gov.