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2009 Space Grant Student Opportunities

Ongoing Space Grant Internship Opportunities at JPL. Over 150 internships available!

2009 Space Grant Student Opportunities
(Great opportunities that lead to STEM careers)

This is now a year-round program. Students may come to JPL for Summer/Fall/Spring internships

Submit applications to ( along with unofficial transcripts.

The deadline (flexible) for summer 2009 internships is February 1, 2009.

Several student-written abstracts from this year’s JPL Space Grant Internships, to give you an idea of the kinds of projects available for students:

Atmospheric Chemistry of Extrasolar Planets and Designing a Cavity for Use With a Piezoelectric Transducer

Extrasolar planets are planets outside of our own solar system, and they may or may not possess significant atmospheres. By looking at the absorption spectrum of a star before, during, and after a planet’s eclipse, scientists are able to determine the molecular signatures of the gases that are present in a planets atmosphere. These absorption and emission spectra are directly related to the pressure, temperature, and chemical composition for a given planet’s atmosphere. Next, by looking at the photoabsorption cross sections of different gases, we are able to determine the probability that a photon from the parent star will reach the surface of the planet. This is of great importance in determining the possibility of life on planets outside of our solar system. Frequency control and laser stabilization becomes very important when working with lasers. By making use of the Pound-Drever-Hall method, a Fabry-Pérot cavity, and a piezoelectric transducer, we can enable laser frequency locking and greatly enhance the sensitivity of laser measurements. We have been working on a design that will use these methods to enable frequency tuning of locked lasers, and as a result allow us to make better atmospheric measurements.

Determination of Species Diversity in Atacama Desert Soil Samples Using Bacterial 16S Gene Sequences

NASA researchers consider the environmental conditions of the Atacama Desert of northern Chile to be analogous to Mars due to the extreme aridity, trace organic carbon content, and oxidizing conditions. This desiccated environment provides insight into how life could survive or how traces of past life could be preserved under similar conditions on Mars and gives an indication of the kinds of instruments needed to detect signatures of life. To further investigate the nature of life in hyperarid environments, subsurface soil samples were collected from the driest region in the Atacama Desert. This report describes the bacterial diversity derived from DNA extracted directly from these soils. Cells were removed from the soil matrix and the DNA was extracted and purified using a
CTAB extraction protocol. The 16S rRNA gene was amplified by PCR and cloned into E. coli. The 16S rRNA genes were sequenced from the clones and analyzed to determine the species of bacteria present in these soil samples. The diversity profiles of two different sites within the Yungay region of the Atacama Desert are described.

Opto-Mechanical Technologies for Deep-Space Optical Communication Proximity Links

In deep-space communications, proximity links are utilized to reduce the data transmission distance a spacecraft has to directly send and receive its information. Essentially, proximity communication links transmit information from the surface of a planet back to a ground-based communication station on Earth. While current space communication systems incorporate ultra-high frequency (UHF) links, it has been proposed that a transition to optical communication-based systems could increase the amount of broadcast data 10 – 100 times. In order for optical communication-based proximity links to become a reality, impediments such as laser beam co-alignment and opto-mechanical system design must be addressed. It has been proposed that by utilizing piezoelectric tube technology, it is possible to maintain laser beam co-alignment to a functional degree of accuracy and precision. Through testing a piezoelectric tube–based optical alignment system, one of the objectives of this project is to perfect a second-generation system capable of co-alignment to an accuracy of 100 microradians. To integrate an optical communication system such as this into next generation spacecraft, design analyses of current optomechanical structures must be performed. Another objective of this project focuses on redesigning current prototype opto-mechanical assemblies to achieve weight reduction, while maintaining structural integrity. As a method to further develop these designs, computational structural analysis (i.e., finite element analysis) and design integrity assessments will be performed on these prototypes. These undertakings are elements of the collection of technologies currently being developed for proximity communication links by JPL’s Optical Communications Group that will hopefully be utilized in future NASA space missions.

Verification and Validation Activities for the MSL Flight Systems Team

With MSL’s launching thirteen short months from now, the flight systems team is currently completely consumed in the verification and validation (V&V) activities. These activities include, but are not limited to, verifying the behavior of the fault protection system, testing the spacecraft’s hardware and flight software capabilities to operate under nominal and extreme conditions, measuring the mechanical systems of the project and verifying they are within design tolerances, and testing the flight software for proper rejection of off-nominal commands. Each V&V activity is an integral part of the overall design of the MSL project and is important to complete. This partial list of V&V activities was worked on over the summer; the lattermost of the list is the main focus of this paper. With currently over 1500 commands in the command dictionary, and more to come, it is desirable to have scripts that can read a command dictionary and do the off-nominal testing of all the commands and arguments for the commands. The scripts were written in Python and are designed to test each command in a command dictionary for each argument it has, then confirm that flight software rejected the command sent with an invalid argument value. The scripts also create a record file that can be easily understood and lets a reader see if there are any anomalies in the test. If anomalies present themselves, the user can study the record file from the script, the log file from flight software and the command itself to understand if flight software is working properly or not. Depending on how long the flight software takes to reject each command, running these scripts continuously can take from 4.5 hours to 21 hours each. The scripts have pauses built into them in which flight software can be shut down so that they do not have to be run continuously.

The Performance Evaluation of the Ultrasonic/Sonic Drill/Corer at Venusian Average Atmospheric Temperatures

The objective of this project was to demonstrate the operating capabilities of a specially developed Ultrasonic/Sonic Drill/Corer (USDC) at high temperatures. To do this, the USDC was placed in a variable temperature furnace and brought up to 500 degrees Celsius. The actuator resonant frequency, driving voltage, preload, power consumption, and drilling rate were monitored. The USDC operated at a slower drilling rate at the
elevated temperature. Temperatures of 500 plus degrees also induced cracking of the piezoelectric material and fatigue stress in the bit interface. It was demonstrated that a higher tempering temperature for the bit prevented fatigue cracks. The details of the test performed and further possible design improvements are included in the full final project report.

Interannual Variability of the Global Distribution of Heavy vs. Light Precipitation

The launch of the Tropical Rain Measuring Mission in November 1997 marked the first time that a complete record of global land and ocean rainfall between 40° N and 40° S can be established. With ten years of precipitation data, this study analyzes major patterns of rainfall variability in the degree of anomalous heavy rain versus light rain, characterized by non-zero rainfall distributions matched to log-normal curves and evaluated against interannual rainfall distributions. By principal components analysis and method of empirical orthogonal functions, indices of the major modes of oscillation are found and compared to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), possibly indicating a correlation between interannual rainfall variability and the aperiodic event characterized by an east/west oscillation in global winds, pressure, and oceanic subsurface temperatures across the Pacific Ocean.

Asteroid Astrometry

The ultimate goal of asteroid astrometry is to get a more precise calculation of the orbits of asteroids. To obtain this data, we use a 4K CCD camera and the 24-inch telescope at Table Mountain Observatory. The camera is focused using information for temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity in order to obtain clear images. We take two to three pictures of each asteroid, each with a different pointing, to ensure we have sufficient reference stars. Using the known positions of these reference stars in the picture, the position of the asteroid can be more accurately determined. We then run the images through a center-finding reduction program that uses the centers of the stars and asteroids in order to determine the asteroid’s location. The results and information we obtain are then used by others who are able to update the asteroid’s orbit. This technique allows for a more precise calculation of the orbit of an asteroid or satellite. To date, we have completed nine nights of observation and have obtained good data in seven out of those nine nights. There are six more observing nights planned, and we expect good results out of those.

Computational Modeling of Plasmas and Cathode Erosion: Simulating Hollow Cathode Life Tests in Ion Propulsion Systems

Ion propulsion systems (IPSs) typically produce very high specific impulse compared to conventional chemical rockets, with the result that significantly less propellant mass is needed to accomplish the same mission requirements. The life requirements of ion engines for NASA missions range in years. To qualify these engines it has been customary to perform life tests, which can be costly and very time-consuming. As mission demands increase, it is no longer cost effective or time feasible in many cases to perform such life tests. Computational modeling of these systems can significantly reduce the cost and time required by life tests. OrCa2D is a computational tool that models the plasma and erosion of hollow cathodes in IPS. Its purpose is twofold. First,
OrCa2D helps us to better understand life-limiting processes inside a cathode. Second, once validated with short duration wear tests, OrCa2D can be used to predict the service life of these devices without performing the full life test. Presently, OrCa2D has only been used by its developers. The work performed under this task aims at improving the usability of OrCa2D for use by other researchers and for a variety of cathode geometries and operating conditions.

U.S. Rosetta Project: Understanding the Properties and Dynamics of Cometary Nuclei

Despite advancements in cometary science and the advent of the Space Age, the properties and dynamics of the cometary nucleus and its origins are still ambiguous. Opportunity to better constrain characteristics of cometary nuclei awaits the unprecedented mission, Rosetta, where a lander will be deployed on the surface of comet
Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Several permutations of conceptual comet models since the conventional Whipple’s comet model, the icy conglomerate model, have been proposed to account for the accumulating wealth of new evidence. Yet, results are still inconclusive. I will present preliminary results of an updated C. Alexander thermal model of the cometary nucleus to incorporate current ideas of actual structure, strength, porosity and density of various comets. Furthermore, the results will convey the model’s implications in the context of the formation of the solar system.

Published in Employment Internship Research