Interns are getting remarkable firsthand opportunities to make an impact at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. Andrew Wylde, a CU Boulder intern working in the microelectronics assembly area of the RF Payload Center of Excellence, was able to successfully tune a low noise amplifier (LNA) hybrid – a microelectronic part that will be used on the Arabsat 6A and Hellas-Sat-4/SaudiGeoSat-1 A2100 commercial satellites – in only six hours.
Tuning can take about two days to complete, but as the hybrid assembly process improved, Andrew was able to tune the hybrid in a fraction of that time. Plus, Andrew had only been an intern with Lockheed Martin for five months. This achievement and hands-on experience as an intern displayed the unique opportunities being offered to the next generation of Lockheed Martin engineers.
“The experience has been invaluable as an engineer. It has given me the opportunity to interact with the hardware I will one day design and see if through the eyes of a technician,” said Andrew, a co-op technical senior.
Andrew, currently a student in the BS/MS program in electrical, computer and energy engineering, joined the RF Academy Co-Op program in January. The RF Academy Co-Op is a partnership between CU Boulder and Lockheed Martin.
“I really get to learn the production process here, and better understand my role as an engineer in helping design and produce hardware for the next generation of spacecraft and satellites,” added Andrew.
The purpose of the LNA hybrid is to amplify signals to and from a satellite. The formerly labor-intensive hybrid assembly process has become significantly automated, therefore reducing assembly time by 96 percent, minimizing hybrid tune time and reducing overall test cost. These automated assembly processes are so exact in part placement and wire bond location that each hybrid constructed will be identical, allowing the test technician to create a “tuning map” for placement of gold tuning ribbons.
The actual tuning process involves examining the small pieces of gold – which are only the size of a grain of pepper – under a microscope to confirm that each part of the hybrid is secure and meets electrical parameters. Andrew worked to tune these tiny gold pieces on various parts of the hybrid to test performance characteristics, such as input/output, gain/gain-flatness and noise figure. This tedious process used to take nearly two days – now it takes under six hours, and Andrew was essential to this process improvement.
The RF Academy Co-Op program seeks to ensure the next generation of space engineers gains firsthand experience in the design and build of RF components.
“The RF Payload Center of Excellence here on Space Systems’ campus and its manufacturing line is a full-building, cross-team effort and nothing here can be accomplished without the person next to you. It’s a fast-paced, fun environment and I really look forward to getting involved with future products,” said Andrew.
Lockheed Martin extended its RF partnership with CU Boulder with the recent announcement of the RF Space Systems Research Center. This multi-million-dollar agreement will establish new academic programs to boost engineering expertise at the school and create a new curriculum to fill in-demand skills in the space sector.