October 8, 2010 — In September four students from California State University (CSU) completed a hands-on summer internship project in the spacecraft propulsion group at Space Systems/Loral (SS/L).  The unique team internship project was sponsored by SS/L to provide the students with a summer of professional experience and learning at a time when the college’s 2010 summer program offerings were severely curtailed by state funding cuts.

SS/L’s Propulsion Products Department hosted the four students over the summer with special projects selected to be good learning experiences for the students and helpful in accelerating some of SS/L’s necessary development tasks. Caroline Juan, Yosman Marroquin, and Hike Yefremian designed and tested a harness subsystem, which will jumpstart the qualification of a new configuration for SS/L’s next generation electric thrusters. Joel Harris also helped with that project but focused on an effort to help make on-orbit propulsion subsystem data more readily accessible and user-friendly for the propulsion engineering group. 

Dr. Keith Moo-Young, Dean of CSU Los Angeles, College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology (ECST), conceived the team internship idea and arranged for the students to work with the Palo Alto satellite and space systems manufacturer. “In our curriculum, we place major emphasis on giving our students hands-on experience in applying the engineering principles they study.” said Dr. Moo-Young. “This internship allowed these students to do that and to make a contribution, in a real-world team environment, to systems that will actually be used in space. We are grateful to SS/L for providing this valuable experience to these promising young people.”  

For the harness configuration project the students’ task was to devise a harness arrangement for an advanced electric thruster. This thruster, known as the SPT-140, is installed at the end of a deployable, articulated arm which carries the power and instrumentation harness for the thrusters and other components. The new high-thrust SPT-140 uses three times more power than the currently used version, making the harness heavier and potentially much stiffer. This could make the module difficult to deploy reliably with currently qualified mechanisms.

Caroline, Yosman, and Hike analyzed and characterized a range of configurations and built a test setup that can accurately measure torques under various extreme conditions. Based on these measurements, a preferred design was identified, giving SS/L a head start on the qualification of the new deployable module.

Joel, working with the large and growing repository of on-orbit performance data, created algorithms to filter out non-meaningful data points and then created a graphical user interface to permit easy selection of data to be plotted, analyzed, trended and compared. These tools make it much more efficient for SS/L propulsion engineers to evaluate on-orbit performance of SS/L's electric propulsion systems.

“Space Systems/Loral has made a commitment to contribute to science, technology, engineering and math education, in order to help inspire America’s next generation work force,” said John Celli, president of Space Systems/Loral.  “The propulsion lab summer internship was highly successful and we have already identified other universities that would like to participate in similar programs.”

SS/L Propulsion Engineer Geri Gaeta and the Propulsion Team, Gert van Ommering (Technology Director), Kartik Ghorakavi (Systems Engineer), and Esther Gaona (Talent Acquisition) were key contributors in developing and implementing the program.