What NASA engineers are really doing 

Do Robotics Engineers Work At Nasa?

NASA continues to offer robotics engineers opportunities as robotic space exploration becomes a priority. If you are still in high school, you might want to participate in FIRST, Botball, or other robotics competitions to get involved with hands-on robotics.


Aerospace Engineering Requirements

While the minimum requirement for the aerospace engineering industry is a bachelor’s degree, some people go above and beyond for a graduate degree for many reasons. First of all, many in the field simply have a love of learning. Additionally, a graduate degree usually allows for higher pay upon exiting school and allows you to focus on a more specific interest in aerospace engineering.

Keep in mind that many employers have tuition reimbursement programs, so it may be worth to get a job with bachelor’s and then go back to school while working to get a graduate degree, especially if you’re not 100% sure what you would specialize in.

What type of engineers go to space?

Space engineers typically specialize in either aeronautical engineering or astronautical engineering. Aeronautical engineers focus on aircraft, whereas astronautical engineers focus on spacecraft.

What Do Robotic Engineers Study?

Bachelor’s degrees in engineering are required for robotics engineers. In robotics courses, you will learn about hydraulics and pneumatics, CADD/CAM systems, integrated systems, numerically controlled systems, logic, and microprocessors. Robotics-specific engineering programs are available at some colleges.

How hard is it to get into SpaceX?

Unless you are an expert in your field, it can be quite difficult to land a job at Elon Musk’s company. SpaceX hires top talent for each position, conducting a grueling series of interviews to ensure that it hires the best candidates. … To land any job, you need to be prepared for the interview.

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Perks of Working at Virgin Galactic As an Aerospace Engineer

Virgin Galactic is another innovative space exploration company. CEO Richard Branson hopes to be up in space himself in the next year. Branson is known for treating employees well and creating a fun work environment, a philosophy that is part of how he has gotten so successful. According to employees, the benefits packages offered by VG are good, including health care coverage, 401K matching and a healthy amount of paid time off.

Communicating Across the Great Void

Mars is one place that’s not very communication-friendly. For one thing, its distance from the Earth ranges from 34.8 to 250 million miles, depending on where in their orbits the two planets are at any given time. So how do NASA engineers talk to Curiosity?

“We can’t just joystick the Rover, like the Chinese did with their rover that they landed on the Moon,” shares Nagin, “because the moon is just three light seconds away, while a signal to or from Mars can take anywhere from five to twenty minutes to arrive. So we use remote sequencing. While the Rover is asleep, we’ll take a look at how she fulfilled the prior days’ activities. If that went well, we decide what we want to do the next day.”

“It’s critical to diagnose the true root cause of a problem rather than the symptoms.”

Translation: Get the scientists to agree on their priorities.

Once that hurdle has been cleared, Nagin continues, “We lay it all out in software similar to a GANTT chart. We get it all lined up and prepped, and then convert all the commands from the different teams into sequences, which are then converted to binary code that the Rover will understand.” She adds that it used to take mission control sixteen hours to plan Curiosity’s day; now, with all the experience behind them, it takes just nine.

The command sequences are then labeled for the spacecraft they’re destined for, and mission control wraps it another layer of metadata that addresses the command package to the specific antennas that will beam them to Mars.

In this case, it’s the Deep Space Network Station, or DSNS, with antennas in California, Spain, and Australia, and the specific frequencies they use are the F-band and S-band radio waves.

“Depending on where Mars is [in relation to Earth] at the time of transmission,” adds Nagin, “it could take anywhere between five to twenty minutes to transfer.”

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Telecommunications N
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Telecommunications Network: Curiosity transmits to Earth directly or via three relay satellites in Mars orbit.

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What is the workplace of an Aerospace Engineer like?

Aerospace engineers work in offices, laboratories, or manufacturing environments where they design or build aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, or systems for national defense. They work for either private companies or the federal government where they can engage in manufacturing, analysis and design, and research and development.

Typical employers include: – Aerospace and aero-engine companies – Airline operators – Research and development organizations – Contract agencies – Consultancies – The Civil Service – The armed forces – Government agencies such as The Ministry of Defence – Universities

Aerospace engineers typically spend a considerable amount of time in office environments, working with computers and sophisticated software programs in order to assist with design elements. These software programs build virtual models, and it is up to the aerospace engineer to run test simulations and perform evaluations before the manufacturing process begins.

Reconnaissance and Simulation are NASA’s Market Research

Despite the vast mysteries of space, there is quite a bit NASA does know and can prepare for, and that’s thanks to decades of reconnaissance missions and simulations.

“In general,” explains Nagin, “we will do a fly-by at the very early stages of a mission, that literally just flies by and takes pictures. Then we send an orbiter to be in the planetary system for a period of time, to map it, to get an idea of what the area is like, before we can even contemplate landing. You need to have enough data to choose where you want to land, what the terrain is like.”

Martian Rock photographed by the Mars Curiosity Ro
Martian Rock photographed by the Mars Curiosity Rover

On top of that, adds Nagin, even as one mission is in heavy development or perhaps already starting up, another group is already thinking about the next mission that will build on the findings and results of the current one. These are the “conceptual formulation folks.”

“The more you can minimize doing things that have never been done before, the greater chance you have of succeeding.”

Simulation goes hand in hand with the reconnaissance missions. “We do shake tests that simulate the stresses of launch,” says Nagin. “We have large environmental test chambers that mimic the light from the sun—to give us the same thermal situation as in deep space. We took our radar out to the desert at Edwards Air Force Base, where pilots flew them at high speed toward the ground to simulate entry.”

“And for entry, descent and landing, we get into a large amount of simulations—such as the parachute drop test, which is very expensive. We test parachutes in wind chambers for every mission, but the flight tests are much more expensive and are done more periodically.”

In short, Nagin says, “we do our best to piece together what it’ll be like on launch, and try to stay reasonable from a budget perspective. Certainly, we heavily incorporate the lessons learned from previous missions—we use all the imaging and telemetry and other info from those missions that we can. It’s a balance between science and data.”


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What does an Aerospace Engineer do?

Aerospace engineers design, analyze, test, trouble

Aerospace engineers design, analyze, test, troubleshoot and develop advanced technology in defense systems, spacecraft, and aviation. They develop the standards for quality control and design processes, identify issues for products that aren’t working properly, and try to find solutions to fix those issues.

Aerospace engineers may choose to specialize in areas such as aerodynamic fluid flow, structural design, guidance / navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, robotics, or propulsion and combustion.

They can specialize in designing different types of aerospace products, such as commercial and military airplanes and helicopters, remotely piloted aircraft and rotorcraft, spacecraft, including launch vehicles and satellites, and military missiles and rockets.

They often become experts in one or more related fields: aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, flight mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, and guidance and control systems.

Duties and responsibilities of aerospace engineers: – Assess proposals and design requirements – Determine if projects are technically and financially feasible – Go over budgets, timescales and specifications with clients – Do theoretical and practical research – Evaluate designs to confirm that products meet engineering principles – Ensure designs meet customer requirements – Direct, coordinate, produce and implement design, manufacture and test procedures – Measure and improve performance of aircraft, systems, and components – Assist in assembling aircraft – Test, evaluate, modify and re-test products – Determine if proposed projects will result in safe aircraft and parts – Ensure that projects meet quality standards – Inspect malfunctioning or damaged products – Identify sources of problems and possible solutions – Write reports, manuals and documentation – Provide technical advice – Analyze and interpret data – Work towards completion dates and deadlines

Aerospace engineers can apply their knowledge to any part of the engineering process: design, analysis, integration, testing, deployment, or maintenance. They can also hone in on the analysis areas, such as: mechanical / structural design, dynamics, programming, and electronics.

Aerospace engineers are typically well-suited to project engineering, systems engineering, and business roles – these are roles where system-level knowledge as well as math and science knowledge is needed to make, and back up, any decisions.

Aerospace engineers can choose to specialize in one of two types of engineering: aeronautical or astronautical.

Aeronautical Engineer An aeronautical engineer uses his/her technical knowledge to study an aircraft’s aerodynamic performance. This includes the aircraft’s materials, propulsion system, and aircraft design.

Aeronautical engineers design, develop, manufacture and maintain both civil aircraft and military aircraft, aeronautical systems and aeronautical components in order to improve fuel efficiency and improve flight safety. They also keep in mind the importance of reducing costs and lowering the environmental impact of air travel.

Astronautical Engineer Astronautical engineering deals primarily with overseeing the entire process for the development of spacecraft that functions outside the atmosphere of Earth (versus an aeronautical engineer who deals primarily with aircraft that functions inside the atmosphere of Earth).

An astronautical engineer, also known as a rocket scientist, studies spacecraft and focuses on areas that include thermodynamics, aerodynamics, celestial mechanics, propulsion, guidance systems, and flight mechanics.

Spacecraft may include products such as: rockets, remote sensing satellites, missiles, space launchers, space vehicles, navigational systems, planetary probes, and communication / direct broadcasting / reconnaissance satellites.

QA with a NASA engineer

Do you have any advice for fresh graduates, or first year students? Learn for the love of it, pursue the impossible, value relationships. “My advice is to learn with the intent of understanding and solving problems, not for grades. Don’t let others discourage you by saying something is impossible – it may have been impossible in the past, or impossible for them, but that does not make it impossible for you. Learn from the mistakes of others, avoiding repeating them yourself – that is why reading, from history to literature, is very important.  Build friendships and partnerships for noble endeavours. Don’t be afraid of challenging the status quo, but respect others even when trying a revolutionary solution.” What does NASA look for in an employee? Visionaries, the best engineers, technologists and scientists with a creative spirit. “NASA looks first for high skills in science, engineering and technology. These are essential for us at NASA as we are tasked to do things no one has done before. Then, it looks for leadership and managerial abilities – those with both are in most demand, as they will guide others in missions to come. Even if one may not be a born leader, one must be able to work well in a team, since all our projects are a result of a joint effort. Then there is the creative spirit. The innovative minds who will define where to go next in space. Those who change space exploration. Needless to say these people are rare.” What is the most interesting/unusual research project you worked on, or biggest technical challenge? A Wind Robot in the atmosphere of Jupiter. “The most interesting and unusual project was a study of a Wind Robot (Windobot) – a flyer that could remain for a long duration in the atmosphere of Jupiter. The atmosphere is composed of primarily light atoms of hydrogen and helium; the gravity is high; the solar illumination is low. Imagine a bird that needs to fly at the thin upper atmosphere and gets no food, and needs to fly for one year, while attracted by the planet with a gravitational constant two-and-a-half times larger than on Earth. It made me learn a lot about flight and atmosphere of these gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn.” Was there anything that surprised you about working for NASA? The importance of politics in space exploration. “One thing, at a high level, is that I did not realise how dependent NASA is on US politics, as the alternation of government (between Republicans and Democrats) can lead to changes of direction. Some programs really require long-term consistency, for example human missions clearly do. I was surprised we more or less abandoned the moon instead of intensifying our efforts to build bases there. From time to time we plan to go there and then once again change direction.” What are the key fields of engineering that NASA prioritises spending in? Artificial intelligence leads the way. “We will see more and more artificial intelligence and autonomous robotics, including operations with large fleets of autonomous spacecraft/robots. For now, the key fields are: space-science mission engineering and related remote-sensing instruments design and operation of planetary probes, including the Mars rovers mission operations controlling the dozens of spacecraft in operation now spacecraft autonomy Deep Space communications advanced propulsion human flight.” When you finished your PhD, what were your thoughts on the future of artificial intelligence? Did things turn out as you predicted? Progress has been slower than predicted; but the days of AI exceeding our own intelligence are close! “I had thought in 20 years I would have my own humanoid robotics company. I thought AI would be common, and here we are 20 years later and it’s been slower than I thought. I didn’t underestimate the difficulties, but I overestimated the level of investments that would be made. Investors finance projects when they can get highest profits at minimum risks; it’s likely they saw more profitable enterprises and invested there. Now everyone is investing like crazy in self-driving cars, but it was not the same a decade ago. Science fiction movies have often been even more ambitious in predictions. AI is coming for sure and we are close to the moment it will exceed the intelligence of a single person of today. I believe, however, that we will also symbiotically coexist with AI, and it will empower us, not overpower us.” What do you see for the future of autonomous robots in space exploration – what types of robots are NASA seeking? E.g. Mars rovers? Bipedal? Or multi-legged/limb? As we diversify our destination we will see all kinds of robots. Kangaroos in space could be just around the corner! “The rovers we design are those that best fit the mission requirements. If the mission is to traverse 2km in a special flat region and to last six months, then we will design the cheapest and most robust robot that can satisfy those requirements. The case for bipedal has not been strongly made so far, so there are none. When they come, it may not be of human type biped locomotion, but may be more kangaroo-like jumping robots – or whatever fits the mission requirements. I agree with many that for rough, mountain type of rocky terrain a multi-limb will inherently do better than a wheeled robot. Inside a lunar base station, a biped would be probably the best shape, especially if it needs to closely interact with humans and uses human tools and environment. What do you do during your free time? What are your hobbies? Finding new ways to explore my professional passions; travelling and exploring new cultures. “I have very little ‘free’ time since I always do something I am passionate about. I am involved in professional societies, especially Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society, where I am currently VP for membership and student activities. I organise conferences every year, I travel a lot, and like exploring new countries and cultures. I like to read and watch movies, outdoor activities, spend time with my wife, my family and friends. I try to contribute to making the world a better place, aiming to do things that are worthwhile.” Read the full article about VU PhD graduate Professor Adrian Stoica’s journey to NASA and his plans for the future.   Writer: Jessica Jury Adrian Stoica moved to the US to join NASA, after graduating from VU. Electronic Engineering graduate Kevin Too jumped at the chance to quiz our NASA scientist


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