Saumya Sharma

B.S.A.E. 2021

What is your next adventure?

I plan to take the spring semester off so that I can go back home to New Jersey and reconnect with my family, especially my little brother. When I left home for Georgia Tech, he was in the 6th grade and now he’s in 10th grade, so I’ve missed a lot of his childhood and am looking forward to catching up with him. I am also working part-time next semester at REI, which is super exciting since I can use my job to help fund traveling within the US as I get ready to start graduate school in the fall of 2022.  

In the summer, I hope to intern with another commercial aerospace company. I’m currently interviewing with a few companies, so I should find out soon if any of those pan out. My goal is to find an internship that will shape specifically what kind of research I want to do in graduate school.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I'm really looking forward to getting the chance to intern at another aerospace company and immerse myself in their fast-paced environment. In undergrad, some of the craziest memories I have were at my internships – from seeing Astranis putting together the initial mockup of their satellite to being front and center of the Demo-2 launch. On a more wholesome note, I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with my family and exploring different places in the states and getting back into surfing.  

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

During my first year at Tech, I interned at the MIT Lincoln Lab as a mechanical engineering intern. While I was there, I got my first glimpse of what it was like to work at a research institute. I focused on initial trade studies and design of the exterior structure of a small satellite and was introduced to presenting to people in the industry.

The following summer, I received a Brooke Owens Fellowship which matched me with Astranis Space Technologies. There I worked as a mechanical engineering intern, designing the initial ground support equipment for their GeoSat-1 satellite, which will provide internet service for Alaska in geostationary orbit. It was really neat to learn about Astranis’ overall mission plan and mission trajectory. I think that's where I got the inkling that (while I did find structures in mechanical engineering really cool) I wanted to pivot towards guidance, navigation, and controls (GNC), but I didn't really know what that meant as a sophomore.

Then the next co-op I had was with SpaceX between January 2020, and July 2020, smack in the middle of like the pandemic, working on the Dragon Final Integration team at the Cape. My internship began with the inflight abort test (IFA) and eventually transitioned into me actively contributing to the final Dragon-1 cargo mission (CRS-21) and the first crewed Dragon-2 mission (Demo-2). I was front and center with my team, prepping for the Demo-2 mission, which was slated to be the first crewed mission to return America back to the International Space Station on an American launch vehicle. It was a really humbling moment to see history being made in front of me, and to have the sheer opportunity to work on the Dragon vehicle that sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley into space. During my time there I worked on operations that directly impacts the final assembly of this capsule, such as installing the nosecone on the capsule to measuring the center of gravity and moment of inertia to cross compare it with the calculated values that were needed for the correct like reentry. There were so many trials and tribulations and in no way shape or form was this easy. My mental resilience was constantly tested because of the super long hours, the number of sheer number of people across different fields that I had to work with, but it really pushed me as an engineer, and I wouldn't really trade it for the world because it was an invaluable experience.

This past summer, I had the chance to work towards chipping away at pivoting my career more towards GNC. I was an autonomous systems and software verification intern at Blue Origin on the New Glenn rocket. I worked on fleshing out the processor and the loop capability for Blue Origin on their New Glenn rocket, and basically taking GNC applications and converting it into a processable binary that could be run on the actual main flight computer.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

I owe a lot of my success at Tech to Prof. Di Leo and Prof. Gunter. I don’t think I would have received half of the opportunities that I have gotten if it weren’t for their mentorship and support. Dr. Gunter took a chance on me being a first-year student and let me work on the LiDAR team on the TARGIT CubeSat. Prof. Di Leo accepted my application as a first-year student to become a Yang Aero Maker Space mentor. I don't think I would have had the chance to build up so many foundational skills, whether it was how to machine things in the Aero Maker Space, or how to legitimately go from having only an idea of how LiDAR works to bringing it to a point where it can be implemented on a CubeSat and now manifested to fly on the CRS-24.

Being part of the Design, Build, Fly (DBF) team was exciting because I got the chance to work on a one-year span project from the ground up. Building this remote-controlled RC aircraft, testing it, and then taking it to competition was quite the fast-paced design process I needed to my hands dirty in engineering work. I really got to dip my feet in all of these different arenas between research and design teams, and then being an AMS mentor and officer. Tech has been irreplaceable and fundamental to my success. And I'm happy to call myself an alum of the School of Aerospace Engineering.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

It is worth trying a lot of different things as a freshman and over time picking what you want to do. Don’t let the fact that you’re a freshman and you have no experience get in the way of you trying something new. I had never seen a 3-D printer before coming to Tech, and I was still able to become an Aero Maker Space mentor and officer without that limiting me. Also, companies love to see that students have tangible building experience so don’t limit yourself.

Navigate and chart your path and remember it’s never too late to start, but always keep your health in perspective as your number one priority, and then build everything else around it. That’s something I learned along the way. It’s not worth spreading yourself too thin with academics and research at the expense of your health. And, finally, enjoy college!! These precious moments with friends and learning so many new things never come back, so cherish those memories in the present moment.