Mark Ronnenberg (MR): The solar system internet is a buzzword to describe space communication. Right now we already have things in space: satellites, rovers, and so forth. As part of the Artemis program, NASA is planning to send more things and people into space.
For all of this to work out well, we need solid, robust communications that will function in space. Because our space networks are relatively small, people on earth on ground stations are managing everything. The rate that we're sending things into space is increasing, and it's not feasible to scale our current management systems to such a degree. We need autonomous systems that can run on their own without micromanaging everything.
College: When you say autonomous systems, what do you mean?
MR: Maybe I need two satellites to be able to communicate with each other; I don't want to have to send a message from Earth saying, “OK, satellite, send this message now,’ because there'd be a time delay because of the vast distance. It'd be better if the satellite could automatically see what other satellites are within range and communicate on its own without human input. That's what we mean by autonomous. But we don't have a firm mathematical framework with which to model that sort of network.
That’s where we come in as interns. Our job is to figure out what kind of math might be applicable here. What tools for mathematics could we use? And how can we make nice mathematical models that we might actually be able to study?
College: What did you do on a typical day of your internship?
MR: I'd sign onto a platform to virtually meet with my group of six other interns. We'd often have time to informally chat with each other before more formal meetings with our group leader. He might give a talk about a technical topic, or he might have tasked us with learning about something and then presenting to the team. We’d also have lectures from external speakers, team building exercises, and NASA official meetings.
In one meeting, we simulated being astronauts in the space station communicating with ground control. We worked through a hypothetical problem to learn a little bit about how astronauts speak and how to work as a team.