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New Zealand Space Agency
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2019 NASA Autumn Interns
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- Callaghan Innovation – breakthrough research in the manufacture of tiny sensors
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- NASA interns' vlogs
2019 NASA Autumn Interns
A further 3 students from the same round were chosen for the Autumn NASA Internship period from September to December 2019, and given prestigious New Zealand Space Scholarships to attend. Follow the video journeys of their unique projects and experiences there.
On this page
Final words from Kiwi interns at NASA
11 December 2019
As their NASA internship draws to a close in Silicon Valley - Finbar, Lynley and Sam tell us about how their amazing space projects went. They also encourage other post-graduate STEM students to apply by 19 December 2019 for next year's round.
[Finbar, Lynley and Sam stand in front of the NASA Ames Research Center’s entry sign. Finbar speaks first].
G'day. We've come to the end of our New Zealand Space Scholarship here at NASA Ames and we have had an absolutely fantastic time. Over this short video we're going to tell you what we've learnt or the main conclusions of our research here. My research we've come to the conclusion that rotor blades are significantly affected by flow condition at low Reynolds number or equivalently low pressure. The reason for this is due to laminar separation, which is the effect that occurs when flow comes in to a rotor blade smooth and it doesn't have the energy - it's not energetic enough to stay attached to the blade. This causes it to separate from the blade and results in a massive decrease in thrust and increase in required power. The applications for this research are for both extra-terrestrial flight like the Mars helicopter and for small UAVs here on Earth.
[Sam speaks] Awesome, so I've recently been wrapping up my project here as well, and over the last two months I've had the opportunity to use Pleiades, one of the supercomputers here at NASA Ames. With it we've been training some models to identify exoplanets from the TESS mission, and this is done through processing time series data of light captured from stars, and through that we can identify distinct light curves which relate to exoplanets passing in front of the stars, which differ from other phenomenon such as eclipsing binary star systems. The models have been performing really well and we're just about to implement it into the automated data pipeline here.
[Lynley speaks] Kia ora. I'm Lynley and I've been working on data visualisation here at NASA. Through the course of my project I've got to learn how to work with different types of 3D printers creating different 3D models, and also work with augmented reality and a really cool volumetric display called the “Looking Glass”. Part of my work here has been visiting other parts of NASA and other research centres and seeing how they use data visualisation in all of their work. What I've found is that data visualisation is used in a huge organisation like this to make sure that communication between lots of disparate scientific disciplines who are all on the cutting edge is handled really smoothly and I've got to learn about lots of different techniques used for doing that. Throughout the courses of our internships here we've got to do a huge range of things like visiting other NASA research centres, and seeing what they research there. Getting to explore L.A. and San Francisco with lots of friends from all over the world that we've made here. I would absolutely recommend applying for a NASA internship if you're given the chance, because there's so much more to learn here than what we can just express in this video. Applications are now open for the first round of 2020 NASA scholarships from the New Zealand Space Agency. And now that they've had a successful run with the first two sets of interns they're going to continue the Scholarship. So make sure that you apply in 2020.
Kiwis' NASA Projects - Mars, distant planets and 3D
18 November 2019
Midway through their NZ Space Scholarship from the NZ Space Agency at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, Finbar Argus, Sam Donald and Lynley St George describe their cutting edge space projects.
[Three students stand in front of a retired rocket on the Ames Research Center campus in California]
Gudday, I'm Sam and I'm here with Lynley and Finbar, and we're at NASA Ames Research Center just in front of the Titan One Rocket which was brought NASA fifty years ago for active vibration testing in the room that Finbar is currently working in. During my time here I've been working on developing a model for planetary identification from the Tess satellite, and we're doing that currently by transferring the model from the Kepler satellite which was being developed over the last two years through deep learning techniques and that was trained on over 200 thousand planetary candidates. So now we're currently doing transfer learning from that model towards the Tess satellite which has a far smaller subset of data. And yeah, it's going really well and we've got some really promising results coming out of it.
[Lynley talks] Kia ora. I've been working here in the intelligent robotics group visualising data taken from the Atacama which is one of the driest regions on Earth, in fact I think it is the driest region on Earth. And the reason that we use data from there is that it's very analogous to data on Mars. It's interesting to geologists and biologists. I've been visualising this data in 3D using techniques like multi-coloured 3D printing, augmented reality and a holographic display called the Looking Glass. We've also been learning lots of skills here related to things like managing our own projects, and working in teams with lots of people from overseas - so learning how to manage conflicting interests and different ways of communicating has been a very important part of what we've learned here.
[Finbar on the left begins talking] As Sam said I've had the exciting opportunity to work in the vacuum tower and this is for testing rotors at extremely low pressures like they have on Mars. So I've been recently comparing my simulation results with some experimental results from the vacuum tower, and just trying to iterate through and improve those comparisons to try to make it easier and try to make improve the understanding of low pressure rotor blades.
[Lynley speaks again] So that's our update from halfway through our projects. Check back in for the third one, where we're going to tell you what the finished product of our projects was, and also what Sam and Finbar got up to in Vegas!
Seeing deep into space with NASA
12 November 2019
Sam Donald studied a Bachelor of Engineering specialising in Mechatronics at the University of Canterbury. He has received a NZ Space Scholarship to work at the prestigious NASA Ames Research Center to understand new ways of analysing images to find undiscovered earth and super-earth sized planets, hundreds of light years away.
[Sam Donald stands in front on a big field at the entrance to the NASA Ames Research Center with Hangar One behind him.]
G'day. My name's Sam Donald and I'm originally from the town of Whanganui, New Zealand.
I'm also a recent graduate from the University of Canterbury. Currently I'm here inside the front gates of NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. And behind me you can see Hangar 1 which is a giant airship hangar designed and constructed in the 1930’s.
During my time here I'll be working on convolutional neural networks which are an algorithm modelled off the way we humans identify and perceive images in our surroundings. However, instead these algorithms will be applied to identifying Exoplanets through the images of stars captured by the Tess and Kepler missions.
It's honestly an amazing opportunity and I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into the work. On top of the work we've also had plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding Bay Area with interns not only from America, but places like Portugal, Mexico, South Korea, and Lithuania.
And one thing of note is that the sun has not stopped shining since the day we got here, which has made for awesome opportunities to explore the surrounding beaches, but honestly, I really do miss some of the New Zealand weather because I am really melting out here. So yeah, that's all for now and really looking forward to the rest of this internship.
Improving rotors and Mars helicopters for NASA with Finbar Argus
21 October 2019
Finbar Argus is a University of Auckland student on a NZ Space Scholarship at the NASA Ames Research Center in California. Finbar describes his ground breaking project on rotorcraft (such as drones) which one day may be used for planetary exploration.
[Finbar stands inside a room at the Aeromechanics building at NASA, in front of three posters showing different types of aircraft and simulation equipment.]
Hi there, I'm Finbar Argus and I'm here at the Aeromechanics branch of the NASA Ames Research Center. This is where they do a lot of research for rotorcraft, so your helicopters and your tilt-rotors, like you can see here [Finbar points to a model behind him of a plane with tilt rotors].
My project here is I'm working on understanding the critical flow over aerofoils and over rotor blades. So what critical flow is, it is the region of flow in between where it's slow enough and in a small enough size scale that the flow is completely laminar over your blade. By laminar I mean it is smooth over your blade. So your airflow is nice and smooth over the whole blade.
The supercritical region is where your flow is turbulent over the blade, and so that means that it is the flow is rough and it is rolling over itself and staying connected to the blade. So the critical region is in between these two regions, and at this region when going down from a subcritical region to this critical region you can lose a lot of drift and create a lot of drag on your blade which is typically unwanted.
So what I want to do is I want to understand in what different flight conditions, and what different wind conditions this could be, this could be dangerous or what will happen in these conditions. The applications for my project are for micro air vehicles or really small drones, and I want to understand how the flight of these drones could go into the critical regime and understand what happens when it is in that regime. So for example there could be a certain manoeuvre in a certain wind condition that causes one blade to go over, to go into this critical regime and it could cause a crash. So by improving the understanding of this we can then avoid these crashes.
Another extremely exciting future application is the Mars helicopter, which also operates in a critical regime because of the extremely low density on Mars. I am super excited to be here and I can't wait to spend the whole 16 weeks here and learn off the smartest people around, and I am just going to love it all.
Introducing Lynley St George
19 September 2019
Lynley St George is a Waikato University student who specialises in human computer interaction and data visualisation. Lynley explains the novel media project she's embarking on at NASA, and gives us her first impressions of life in the U.S as an intern on the NZ Space Scholarship.
[Lynley stands under a tree in front of a large, unused aircraft Hangar at the NASA Ames Research Center in California]
Kia ora, my name is Lynley St George and I am currently here at Hangar One at the NASA Ames Research Center. I'm from Kirikiriroa and I study human-computer interaction and data visualisation at the University of Waikato. I applied to be a NASA Ames intern partly for the cool factor, and partly because I know that the projects that they work on here have a huge influence on my field. They collect some truly unique data and they use some truly unique technology to do it.
While I'm here at NASA I'm working on a project called ‘Visualisation using novel media’. I'm actually the only person on that project so I kind of get to decide what that means. But basically, I'm taking data from parts of space where people can't go and creating new ways of looking at it to make it easier for researchers and everyday people to understand.
The novel media part of that project refers to the types of visualisation that I'm going to be doing. I might be using that data to create 3D printed models, augmented reality experiences, virtual reality experiences, holograms, or all of the above. I'm going to be assessing a lot of different types of new media and how useful they're going to be to future researchers.
I've also been on a lot of facility tours. I visited the Astro B microgravity testing facility, the vertical gun range, the vertical motion simulator, and the supercomputer facility here. It's been super exciting to meet people who work in each of those facilities, learn about what they research and about the awesome tools that they use to do it.
Other than that I've just been adjusting to campus life here. I've made a lot of new people, but nowhere near as many as the summer Interns. Over the summer they had 200 people staying in the lodge - we have closer to 30 so there are a lot fewer people, but you get to know them a lot better.
I've also been exploring all of the ways in which the U.S. is different to New Zealand. I've been having to go on journeys to try and find actually good cheese, and there are squirrels everywhere! Everywhere that you would expect to see a bird in New Zealand you're going to see a squirrel or a lizard, although there are huge packs of wild turkeys roaming all over campus.
Overall, it's a lot of new things and a lot of fun. Ka kite.