If I Told You, I’d Have To Kill You: My Summer Internship at Northrop Grumman

Alex-2016 Alex, Internship, Viterbi Summer Leave a Comment

If I told you everything about my summer internship at Northrop Grumman Corporation, I’d have to kill you. But let’s start with the basics. Northrop Grumman Corporation is the fifth largest aerospace and defense contractor in the world and has four business sectors: aerospace systems, electronic systems, information systems, and technical systems. As an astronautical engineering major, I believe aerospace systems stands above the rest. Who else in world creates drones as sophisticated as the Global Hawk, or laser weapons that can do this (Navy Laser Weapon Test)?

The Global Hawk, a product of Northrop Grumman's San Diego facility.

The Global Hawk, a product of Northrop Grumman’s Rancho Bernardo facility.

Luckily, when I was offered a Northrop Grumman internship at the USC career fair, my hiring manager placed me in aerospace systems, working at the famed Space Park facility in Redondo Beach. A former TRW facility, hundreds of world-changing aerospace innovations took form at Space Park. The lunar module that returned the Apollo 13 astronauts safely back to Earth? Built at Space Park. Pioneer I, the first satellite to leave our solar system? Built at Space Park. Former Lakers owner Jerry Buss and SpaceX co-founder Tom Mueller both got their start at Space Park.

Developed at Space Park, the Pioneer I was the first spacecraft to leave the solar system.

Developed at Space Park, the Pioneer I was the first spacecraft to leave the solar system.

But what about me? What did I do this summer at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems? Remember, if I told you everything, I’d have to kill you. At Northrop Grumman Corporation, there are doors that only open to those with the proper security clearances. Within those doors are projects ensuring the national security of both the United States of America and the world. The following account is what I can tell you about my summer in Space Park. For everything else? Looks like you will just have to work at Northrop Grumman to find out.

My first day on the job, I found myself in the space systems resiliency (SSR) department. SSR deals with protecting American satellites and space vehicles; how can Northrop Grumman make our space ships more prepared for enemy attacks? To better understand the threats facing American spacecraft, I would suggest watching the CNN 60 Minutes episode The Battle Above (The Battle Above, Part 1 and Part 2). As an intern, I was only a small cog in the newest American space race. I worked on a satellite program which, for the purposes of this article, I will code name “Blue Star”. While I knew nothing about the purpose of Blue Star, I was tasked with ensuring proper communication between Northrop Grumman and our classified customer. The first step was determining the testing the space vehicle and its units had to undergo. Using military document MIL-STD-1540, I determined the level to which Blue Star had to undergo vibration, acoustic, shock, acceleration, and load testing. In determining the test levels, I had to research and take into account the environment (thermal, vibration, etc.) Blue Star would experience in the launch vehicle’s payload fairing and in orbit. I then converted these test levels into requirements, contractual statements that held the classified customer accountable for the spacecraft specifications that would pass the aforementioned tests. Finally, I developed integration and test diagrams to illustrate the process by which Blue Star would be designed, integrated, and tested. I combined the requirements and I&T diagrams into one report for an upcoming design review with the customer.

When not working on Blue Star, I worked on FSpot-X. Now, FSpot-X is the real name of the Northrop Grumman program and stands for Full Spectrum Power for Optical/Thermal Energy. FSpot-X is a $2.5 million project awarded by the federal government under ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) to Northrop Grumman. While a government-awarded project, FSpot-X still has classified components and much I cannot tell you. What I can tell you is that FSpot-X will revolutionize the alternative energy industry. FSpot-X integrates high efficiency solar cells with a thermal-acoustic engine. Photovoltaic solar cells lose the majority of their energy as heat. The thermal-acoustic engine converts the waste heat into sound waves. With some classified hand waving, the sound waves eventually generate electricity. FSpot-X will greatly increase solar cell efficiency, making solar cells a more practical investment for the everyday consumer.

Over the last nine weeks, my efforts have pushed FSpot-X from the testing phase into the manufacturing phase. I worked with senior test engineers to conduct a test on FSpot-X and determined the efficiency of the machine. To assist the manufacturing engineers, I learned CATIA (a 3D modeling software) and worked with the CATIA drawings to order parts from outside suppliers.

As my internship at Northrop Grumman Corporation ends, I am truly thankful for all the people I have met and the knowledge I have gained. From FSpot-X to Blue Star, I have been knee-deep in crucial projects and important hardware, experiences I may not have had elsewhere. I feel more prepared to take on my senior design project this fall at USC and cannot wait to see what the future holds, both for the aerospace industry and myself.

Northrop Grumman's Space Park; I work in the low black building right behind the fountain.

Northrop Grumman’s Space Park; I worked in the low black building right behind the fountain.

If you have any more questions, feel free to comment on this post. But be careful what you ask; I might have to kill you.

Have a great rest of your summer, and I will be back come the start of the fall semester at USC.

-Alex Coco

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