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During the Formulation phases of the NASA Project Life Cycle, communication systems engineers are responsible for designing space communication links and analyzing their performance to ensure that the proposed communication architecture is capable of satisfying high-level mission requirements. Senior engineers with extensive experience in communications systems perform these activities. However, the increasing complexity of space systems coupled with the current shortage of communications systems engineers has led to an urgent need for expedited training of new systems engineers. A pilot program, in which college-bound high school and undergraduate students studying various engineering disciplines are immersed in NASA's systems engineering practices, was conceived out of this need. This rapid summerlong training approach is feasible because of the availability of advanced software and technology tools and the students' inherent ability to operate such tools. During this pilot internship program, a team of college-level and recently-hired engineers configured and utilized various software applications in the design and analysis of communication links for a plausible lunar sortie mission. The approach taken was to first design the direct-to-Earth communication links for the lunar mission elements, then to design the links between lunar surface and lunar orbital elements. Based on the data obtained from these software applications, an integrated communication system design was realized and the students gained valuable systems engineering knowledge. This paper describes this approach to rapidly training college-bound high school and undergraduate engineering students from various disciplines in NASA's systems engineering practices and tools. A summary of the potential use of NASA's emerging systems engineering internship program in broader applications is also described.
Systems Conference, 2010 4th Annual IEEE
Date of Conference: 5-8 April 2010