This past year at the International Space University ISU was full of meetings, challenges and fun, but this was nothing compared to the internship. Let’s take it from the beginning: my trip brought me from Strasbourg to Mountain View, California. Why Mountain View?
Because NASA Ames Research Center. It is as simple as that.
We are five students from the Master of Space Studies MSS19 to do our internship here at Ames: Cody Bauer and Aurelio Kaluthantrige who are both aerospace engineers, Kuren Patel, a mechanical engineer, Jeremy Wain Hirschberg, a neurobiologist and myself, Héloïse Vertadier, a digital and aviation lawyer.
During our first month and a half, we got to meet the NASA Administrator, M. Jim Bridenstine, the Chief Scientist, M. Jacob Cohen, and the Ames Chief Counsel, M. Thomas Berndt. We are also invited to regular seminars organized by the center where people like Katie Bouman, the woman that published the very first image of a black hole, come to present their work.
When we have time-off we are enjoying what the center has offer to its employees: the famous Space Bar, a football pitch, tennis courts, a swimming-pool, a basketball pitch and volley-ball courts. Everything is thought to make life on campus enjoyable.
Coming from different backgrounds, we are all working in different teams at NASA Ames. This gives us a perfect picture of how interdisciplinarity works in real life. We might work on different projects, but all of them are part of a bigger picture: the success of NASA missions.
Here are the summaries of our projects and the eventual challenges they brought us.
Cody: “This summer, I am operating out of the Entry Systems and Technology Division at NASA Ames Research Center. The work here focuses on development and testing of entry systems for various space missions. My core work includes setup and use of optical diagnostic techniques for characterizing high enthalpy flows inside the Arc Jet Facilities during those tests. More specifically, I am working part time with a spectroradiometer to extract spectral power from ablating heat shields, from which surface temperatures and emissivity are inferred. My other time is spent assisting with calibration and setup of a laser induced florescence (LIF) lab. Here, lasers tuned to a specific frequency are used to excite atoms within the arc jet flow. Emission spectra is then monitored to extract concentrations and velocities of nitrogen and oxygen atoms within the plasma free stream inside the Arc Jet. Implementing the above techniques provides a better understanding of the interaction between entry environments and heat shields; the ultimate goal being development of new technologies for future space missions to the Moon and beyond.”
Aurelio: “The Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) is a method to obtain fusion processes by means of strong electrical fields confining plasma. Two concentric spherical electrodes apply enough voltage to ionize the gas in between them and accelerate the obtained ions to the center of the system. Eventually, collisions ion-ion occur, and the kinetic energy gained with the acceleration permit the fusion of the two nuclei. By manipulating the electrical field applied between the two electrodes and the geometry of these, plasma can be ejected, such as the common electrostatic propulsion systems.
My project aims to appreciate the physics of an IEC by manufacturing and testing a small-scale plasma confining propulsion system and conceivably applying it to a 6U CubeSat. The in-laboratory experiments aim to obtain an electrostatic propulsion system working with the IEC principle, and to explore the increase in the specific impulse by invoking said reactions. Hence, this project represents the first non-
nuclear step for obtaining a new propulsion system, along as a first step towards the nuclear fusion, the merely technology to allow interstellar exploration.”
Kuren: “Currently, I have rebuilt and tested a Permeability Apparatus test bed that was used for Stardust and the Orion missions. This apparatus is to test the diffusion of air or gasses through a porous material that is to be tested inside of it. End goal of this apparatus is to test PICA (Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator) and PICA-N material to tell us how much of a gas permeates through the PICA after various heat flux ablation stages (range from 0c-3000c). This can tell us how thick the PICA-N material needs to be when they are assembling the Mars 2020 mission heat shield. Another project I have been working on is the designing and development of a new instrument to test materials. This device is called a Miniature Radiation Heater which can heat a material under hard vacuum to recreate re-entry of a vehicle. In conjunction with the development of the heater I am writing the lab view code to run the heater device.”
Héloïse: “As for me, I am working on creating a new legal and ethical framework for robots and AI. I will not lie, this project is way more challenging than expected. I am beyond thrilled about the work at hand and I am meeting as many people as possible to present them my ideas and talk with them to learn and learn over and over again. For now, here is a glimpse of my research.
Given the predicted global application of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) in our society, governments and companies will, at some point, struggle with the legal and ethical issues linked to its use. This matter is significant because to determine the story-line is the first step to control the situation.
In order to do so, the Lunar colonies could be used to create a case-study of how robots and AI interact with Humans. The aim is to analyze and draw conclusions from the data collected in a controlled environment, before applying the solutions to a global-scale on Earth.”
NASA is so big that it can sometimes be overwhelming, but when you take a step back, you realize that being able to make a contribution, as small as it may be, to better understand space is a once in a lifetime opportunity – even though, it is only the beginning for us.
To conclude this article, one day someone asked me: “Why NASA? It is too much.”, the only answer that came to my mind was “Why not?”.
Cover Picture: MSS19 students Cody, Jeremy, Heloise, Aurelio and Kuren at NASA AMES Research center