Student Interns Finish Preliminary Design Of NASA CubeSat Mission
September 12, 2013

CubeSat Launch Initiative Interns Complete Summer Term

[ Watch the Video: NASA Interns Build CubeSat ]

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Student interns have completed their 10-week term at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The team of eight college students and three high school students started designing a CubeSat under the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate (AETD). Their CubeSat, which is a miniaturized satellite for space research, could one day be launched into orbit.

Although the interns began work on the satellite, several other groups will continue to design and build the CubeSat. The interns conceptualized the mission during their time at Goddard, and provided a preliminary design of the satellite hardware. NASA engineers served as mentors as the interns followed NASA guidelines and worked hard to develop all of the satellite components - or subsystems - from scratch.

The students gained their skills from a range of disciplines and each was assigned to work on different satellite subsystems, including optics, thermal, electrical power, systems engineering and satellite communications.

"We threw them into the frying pan," said AETD project manager and lead co-mentor Pat Kilroy. "They had 10 weeks to do what could take NASA a year or so depending on the scope of the project."

The interns' project was part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative, designed to engage students with real life science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) projects by giving educational institutions an opportunity to fly small satellites—fully-functional, stackable CubeSat units that are 4 inches long and weigh about 3 pounds.

This summer the interns were responsible for laying the groundwork for the satellite, designing the mission from scratch and presenting their results in a preliminary design review in front of NASA engineers. Using prototype models, the student team demonstrated how different mechanical and electrical components of the satellite would work.

During a center-wide intern poster session held the first week of August, the interns showcased their results, which ended with a detailed final report to guide the groups who follow them.

The goal, according to Kilroy, was for this group of interns to make their work so comprehensive that the next group could use the design as a foundation for developing the flight hardware.

"They were challenged with the most difficult portion, the front end of a mission," Kilroy said. "It's their baby to pick up and run with it."

The students designed the spacecraft bus (infrastructure that houses the instruments) the satellite will be based on. They were also tasked with designing what the satellite would feature - a tiny hyperspectral imager that uses light waves to determine the chlorophyll content of Earth's plants. Tiara Johnson , electrical engineering student from Johns Hopkins, was part of the team. She said the real challenge was to complete all the work in just 10 weeks.

"I think our biggest challenge was the time constraint," Johnson said. "We didn't have that much time, and we had a lot of work to do."

Another intern, Jeff Sherwood - electrical engineering student at Central Michigan University - felt that designing a project for future interns to further develop was a good opportunity to experience how work is actually done at NASA.

"It's nice to get the real-world experience of working on a project with a team of other interns and engineers," Sherwood said. "It's something you can't learn in a classroom."