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2023-2025 Internship - Dragonfly Student & Early Career Investigator Program: Dragonfly Science Planning Tool Development

Dragonfly Student & Early Career Investigator Program:
Saturn’s moon Titan is the only moon in our solar system with a dense atmosphere, which supports an Earth-like hydrological cycle of methane clouds, rain, lakes and seas. Complex organic surface materials preserve, in a deep freeze, the types of organic chemicals that were present on Earth before life developed. Titan's icy crust floats atop an interior liquid water ocean. Dragonfly is a rotorcraft lander (an octocopter) that will explore a variety of locations on Titan. Launching in 2027 and reaching Titan in 2033, Dragonfly will journey farther than any robotic lander has ever traveled. With one hop on average every other Titan day (one Titan day equals 16 Earth days), the rotorcraft will travel from its initial landing site to areas over 100 kilometers away during the planned ~3.3-year mission.
Each student investigator will work with one or more Dragonfly mission team member(s) to conduct Titan research, help formulate Dragonfly mission science and operations plans, or assist in the development of instrumentation, hardware, or testing. A cohort of up to three (3) qualified graduate students from U.S. colleges and universities is selected annually for two-year terms to work with the Dragonfly team. Students dedicate 30% of their time (concentrated during summer and academic breaks) at APL and/or their Dragonfly mentor's home institution and will receive annual funding for travel to Dragonfly team meetings and to publish and present results at a scientific conference. A faculty mentor at each student’s home institution will be granted travel support to attend the annual Dragonfly Student & Early Career Investigator Program kickoff meeting.
Dragonfly Science Planning Tool Development
DRAMPACT (Dragonfly Resource Allocation, Mission Planning, and Commanding Toolkit) is the planning tool for the Science Operations Center (SOC). Resource modeling is a key function of DRAMPACT. Given an operations plan, it simulates the data collected and energy expended during the course of the mission to ensure that we stay within Dragonfly mission constraints. 
Description: Dragonfly is a severely energy-limited mission. Additionally, the power source degrades over time, further reducing the energy available. The DRAMPACT developers work with the science, instrument, and mission operations teams to plan activities which fit within energy and data volume constraints. While DRAMPACT development will continue over the course of the mission, there are a number of capabilities that have yet to be developed.
As the Guest Investigator for this project, you may… 
  • Work with instrument teams and mission engineers to create a library of payload activities. Payload activities are placed on the spacecraft/instrument commanding schedules for resource modeling. 
  • Outcome: a well-defined and extensible library of activities that will be used for planning surface operations.
  • Build a GUI for science planners to interact with a Dragonfly schedule to modify and validate planned observations.
  • Outcome: a robust interface for generating, modifying, and publishing science planning schedules for mission operations.
  • Model when science products are downlinked based on data priority and downlink schedule.
  • Outcome: For each planning cycle, a schedule of what data has been downlinked and queued for ground processing, what data remains on the lander, and when remaining data is expected to be downlinked. Flag expected data that does not arrive. This task is crucial for management of onboard storage and downlink bandwidth.
  • Interface with the to-be-developed Mission Operations Center (MOC) planning tools to ensure consistent predictions for energy and data usage and downlink product schedules.
  • Outcome: A rigorous comparison of two separate sets of tools (both undergoing active development) to ensure that science plans can be executed within mission constraints.

Dragonfly Science Planning Tool Development MENTOR: Dr. Hari Nair, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL)

You meet our minimum qualifications for this job if you…
  • Are pursuing your Masters or PhD in Physical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Computer Science, Mathematics or Engineering at a U.S. institution AND will continue doing so throughout the 2-year duration.
  • Have a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale
  • Proficient in Java
  • Have experience with Linux shell scripting and developing graphical user interfaces (desired)
  • Have demonstrated ability to conduct independent research or development
  • Have excellent organizational and communication skills (written and oral)
  • Include as an attachment to your profile…
  • A cover letter
  • A Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • The name and contact information for the prospective faculty advisor at your home institution
  • A 2-3 sentence statement from the prospective faculty advisor in which they agree to support the student, as a faculty mentor, for the 2-year duration of their participation, should they be selected to work on Dragonfly.
  • Have all requested documents uploaded to your profile no later than June 16, 2023.
  • To access APL’s facilities and networks, U.S. Citizenship status is required, subject to applicable laws
  • Can demonstrate that you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. To ensure the safety and well-being of the community, APL has established a policy requiring that all staff be vaccinated against COVID-19. All staff members must provide proof of full vaccination or have an approved medical or religious accommodation by their start date
An intent of this program is to broaden mission participation; thus, it is intended for students who are not affiliated with, and whose faculty and/or research advisors are not involved with, Dragonfly or other spacecraft missions. Students who do not have a background in planetary science, the geosciences, atmospheric science, or their associated subfields are encouraged to apply)
Why work at APL?
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) brings world-class expertise to our nation’s most critical defense, security, space and science challenges. While we are dedicated to solving complex challenges and pioneering new technologies, what makes us truly outstanding is our culture. We offer a vibrant, welcoming atmosphere where you can bring your authentic self to work, continue to grow, and build strong connections with inspiring teammates.
At APL, we celebrate our differences and encourage creativity and bold, new ideas. Our employees enjoy generous benefits, including a robust education assistance program, unparalleled retirement contributions, and a healthy work/life balance. APL’s campus is located in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. Learn more about our career opportunities at
APL is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, creed, color, religion, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, genetic information, veteran status, occupation, marital or familial status, political opinion, personal appearance, or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.
APL is committed to promoting an innovative environment that embraces diversity, encourages creativity, and supports inclusion of new ideas. In doing so, we are committed to providing reasonable accommodation to individuals of all abilities, including those with disabilities. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate in any part of the hiring process, please contact Only by ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard are we empowered to be bold, do great things, and make the world a better place.