Rebekah Abraham: Lighting the Way to Laser Communications
By Jessica Hinkle
August 4, 2022
Rebekah Abraham spent the last year exploring new places and studying new technologies to help her achieve her goals. From a study abroad program in Dubai to independent research on quantum computing, Abraham is excited to continue expanding her knowledge and interests this summer with a NASA internship.
Abraham is a member of the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project (SIP) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Her summer has been spent on-site at Goddard working closely with the Integrated LCRD Low-Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T) integration and testing team.
ILLUMA-T, targeted to launch in 2023, will provide the International Space Station with enhanced data capabilities through the power of laser communications, also known as optical communications. ILLUMA-T will communicate with NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), completing an end-to-end optical communications system. ILLUMA-T will send information to LCRD via optical links; LCRD will then relay the data to two optical ground stations in Haleakala, Hawaii and Table Mountain, California.
Optical communications is the use of infrared light to transmit information from spacecraft to Earth. ILLUMA-T, alongside LCRD, will showcase the benefits of an optical communications system in low-Earth orbit. Traditionally, NASA relies on radio frequency communications to transmit data. However, optical communications provides missions with increased data rates, meaning more information can be sent in a single transmission.
To support ILLUMA-T, Abraham is working with another SIP intern to create payload and ground system user manuals, as well as compiling a program for operator certification for the payload. These items will help operations run smoothly for the first six months before beginning the 2-year experimentation phase.
“It all needs to get written down, and as they get ready for operations, making sure that the knowledge is transferred on to other people. It will also help optical communications operations in the future.” Abraham said.
Growing up in a family that is more medically oriented, Abraham is focused on engineering and finding her own path. She plans to use her internship this summer to gain direction and clarity for her future and working closely with her mentor Trisha Randazzo has had a huge impact. SIP pairs interns with mentors at NASA who provide direction on interns’ projects, share valuable knowledge, support their growth, and help them to reach their goals.
Currently, Abraham is entering her senior year at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, Maryland. She plans to graduate in spring 2023 with a double concentration in computer and electrical engineering. Her non-engineering coursework at Loyola has been beneficial to her current role with ILLUMA-T too. She utilized writing and technical writing skills learned in class and will take many new skills learned during her internship back to the classroom in the fall.
“Writing for my engineering classes and writing for my English classes are not the same, and those are both different from technical documentation writing,” said Abraham. “But improving my writing skills across multiple mediums will help, especially for my capstone engineering design project during my senior year.”
The previous academic year was a banner one for Abraham. In the fall of 2021, she studied abroad in at American University in Dubai.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” said Abraham. “It’s one of those things that if I start talking about it, I never stop.”
In spring of 2022, she participated in independent research on quantum computing with her advisor, with a focus on intermediate gates.
At school, Abraham works as a Greyhound Ambassador and Intern for Undergraduate Admissions for her school, giving tours to prospective students. She enjoys traveling, hiking, and listening to true crime podcasts. She also recently took up skateboarding during the COVID-19 pandemic, using her new skills cruising through her neighborhood and at her local skate park.