2022 NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Intern
Watch a short vlog update from Mikhael Sayat.
Mikhael was selected by NASA JPL from a shortlist of high-achieving students who applied for the New Zealand Space Scholarship. His background and projects in low-level software development, his mechatronics engineering degree at the University of Auckland, as well as his current PhD research focus on quantum communications put him at the top of the list.
Mikhael Sayat helping to create the next generation of space-based computers
Mikhael’s internship is due to end 18 March 2022 but hopes this date will be extended as he is loving the experience. Find out what he has been working on with the NASA JPL team.
Mikhael Sayat talks about his experience as a NASA JPL intern
Supported by the New Zealand Space Scholarship
So, I’m Mikhael Sayat. I am currently doing a PhD at the University of Auckland and my focus is on quantum communications between satellites and ground stations.
What project are you working on with JPL?
The project I’m directly working on was using images from the Mars Orbital High Rise data set which is a satellite orbiting Mars and capturing landmarks on Mars, using those images and performing imaging processing algorithms on it such as blurring, sharpening.
These processed images will then go into an AI algorithm like a black box and that would better distinguish what certain things are, in this case for Mars in the future.
What excites you most about your project?
The thing that excites me about all of this is the applications of it really and that’s because it like, it’s in the term ‘next generation of space-based computers’ that go into space and to be part of that is just really, really great. You’re definitely contributing to real world applications, real world science.
What’s it like working with JPL?
The cool thing about JPL though once you’re in their workspace, once you’re in their Slack channel you have access to everyone. There’s this cool feature they have called Coffee Buddies where every two weeks you’re paired with a random person in JPL, not even your team and you just see how things are.
What are the challenges and advantages of working remotely?
The challenge of course is that NASA JPL hosts lots of different things that you can attend, like say, a study sesh or like a group session where they speak about a specific topic that they’re researching in, there’s lots of that happening on, you can see the activity on Slack channel, everyone just invites you and all that — just because I’m in New Zealand the timing can sometimes be off.
The advantage however is that I get to do all these cool things, be able to say to all my friends, Hey I’m interning at NASA right now all from my house. (laughs)
What advice would you give to future applicants of the NZ Space Scholarship internship programme?
Best advice I can give to future applicants for this type of internship is just do it. I mean, obviously you have to be in STEM depending on the project but my best advice is to just go for it. JPL is a really, really cool workplace to be in. Everyone is so accommodating and they’re really very considerate like for example, in my case of being virtual and I can only imagine how great a work environment it is in person.
To some it can be daunting to apply to NASA but I mean the NZ Space Agency and the space industry in New Zealand as a whole has kind of positioned itself to be well acquainted with NASA these days and you should definitely take full advantage of that.
How do you think internships like yours can help benefit the NZ space sector?
The NZ Space Agency with this scholarship is in a very good position, sending interns to see what NASA’s like and then bringing it back home to kind of disseminate the experience and … I like the idea because unlike me I wasn’t given a, my situation I wasn’t given a formal way to study space or anything related to space and I think now it’s really, really good because you can bring back all this experience and it can definitely grow the New Zealand space industries.
I think I can say that my software skills have really, really developed just because of this internship alone. Some of the things that I’m doing, you’re never going to learn in universities. Well, I certainly never learnt in university here and that’s just a really great thing.