People: Steffi Valkov
Steffi Valkov

Steffi on board the DC-8 at NASA Dryden Research Center.


Steffi is an Aerospace Engineering major who is also pursuing a minor in Physics, especially Astrophysics. Steffi spent the summer of 2010 working at the SETI Institute. Her project, California Allsky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS), consisted of creating a safe structure for an array of cameras used to observe meteoroids and meteor showers and analyzing the software used to calibrate the cameras. She hopes to eventually land a job working at JPL. This is her story.

In the spring of 2010, I received an opportunity to conduct research through a summer internship at the SETI Institute. As an aerospace engineering student, I entered the research program with a feeling of intimidation due to the often conflicting nature between engineers and scientists. However, the chance to fulfill my love of studying celestial bodies quickly replaced this insecurity with excitement and an eagerness to explore new frontiers. For my research internship, I worked alongside Dr. Peter Jenniskens, who is a world-renown expert and book author of meteors and their parent bodies.

CAMS box setup

Admiring the CAMS box setup at Fremont Peak Observatory.

The common person is likely familiar or has viewed one of the periodical meteor showers such as the Geminids, Perseids, and/or Leonids streams since they are announced on newscasts and popular websites. These highly studied streams have provided useful information on the origins and formation of meteor showers but only a handful have been established to their parent bodies due to lack of data. It is important to establish meteor streams since this will aid in the prediction of their trajectories in space which helps in the protection of satellites and the Earth from impacts.

Night Sky

The ultimate goal of CAMS is to create a view of the night sky such as this one, detailing smaller meteor showers. Photo courtesy of SonotaCo.

My project, CAMS, consisted of acquiring meteor shower data using video from two arrays of 20 cameras each pointed upward to provide a 360 degree view of the night sky. During the course of my research project, I was able to apply my engineering knowledge to the design and implementation of the camera array supporting structures. For one of the structures, I made a finite element model of the loads being encountered by two critically mounted supporting bolts. After the analysis, I provided an engineering solution to relieve the shearing stresses on these mounts to my mentor. The second array was susceptible to high winds, so I helped design a housing that would protect the cameras, anchor the structure to the ground, and re-direct the winds to reduce the pressure and vibrations on the structure. During the Perseids shower in August of 2010, the CAMS system was tested and it successfully recorded data.

Overall, the research internship stimulated the engineering side of me but most importantly the scientific side as well. It provided me with a clear understanding of the intricacies involved in the communication between scientists and engineers to reach a common goal. As a result, one of my main career goals is to work at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena because they offer an ideal mix of science, engineering, and astronomy.
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