I’m about 3/4 of the way through my internship with Boeing, and I wanted to share with all of you what I’m doing, why I chose it for an internship, and why its so AWESOME!
Last summer and this summer, I’ve worked in Boeing’s Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, and I’ve been extremely lucky to find that my background in Astronautical Engineering has prepared me pretty well to work on satellites and that I love doing it. I believe I’ve mentioned before that what makes spacecraft engineering so interesting is the added challenge of designing something that has to be virtually perfect. Not only does your design have to withstand extreme conditions, you cannot go fix it if anything might go wrong, and TRUST ME they do.
In 2011, I worked as a bus test engineer, verifying the health of all the units that make up the “bus”, which is responsible for: propulsion, attitude control, power (solar wings and batteries), getting telemetry data from the spacecraft and sending commands, and maintaining normal temperatures. These components are all crucial to spacecraft flight, but the thing I was really interested to know more about was the Payload!
The payload is the moneymaker, because it is responsible for performing whatever operation the customer wants, which, for Boeing, is usually to send communications signals. We make alot of satellites that are referred to as “comsat”. This summer I am a Payload Systems Engineer on a program that covers the entire globe, and as such, it is my job to make sure that the signal sent up (maybe a phone call by a US soldier in the field) makes it where it’s supposed to go. This is a very simple concept, but can be very difficult in execution.
The simplest type of comsat payload is what is referred to as a “bent-pipe” payload, because the signal is not checked or encrypted or changed at all, just sent back to another location. The top-level design for a bent-pipe satellite will always be very similar: antenna, low noise amplifier (because the signal is initially very small), input filters to get rid of any noise from Earth, high power amplifiers to be able to send the signal back to earth, output filter to eliminate noise from satellite hardware and signals adding together, another antenna.
Where it gets complicated is the extreme level of precision necessary to ensure that the signal stays as clear as possible. Also, converting the analog microwave signal into digital data adds another layer of complexity.Things can get complex very quickly and even the littlest error, like a bit of debris in a tiny sensor, can throw off the manufacturing process and take days and $$$ to find and fix.
I knew absolutely NOTHING about communications engineering when I came here, and I’ve been working with a team of electrical engineers who are baffled that I don’t know about coupling and beamforming and whatever else they think up! However, I’m learning alot, my work is interesting, and every day is a new challenge. I’m continually reassured that I want to go into the satellite industry!