Systems engineering and mathematics double major Keara Burke is helping NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft find the perfect place to collect samples at its far-flung destination, the asteroid Bennu.
Burke – who is vice president of the Engineering Student Council, an Engineering Ambassador and a member of several honors societies – started interning with the UA-led OSIRIS-REx team during her sophomore year, counting rocks in images of a simulated asteroid surface with a particle distribution similar to what the team expects to see on Bennu. Once this task was completed, she offered to analyze the data.
With her help, the image processing team is using a combination of software and statistical analysis to determine the best possible sample site for the spacecraft’s Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism. The TAGSAM arm is only expected to touch Bennu's surface for five seconds, but doing so in an area with lots of rocks could compromise the mission.
"It is rare to work with an undergraduate who is brilliant enough to lead PhD-level research," said lead image processing scientist Daniella DellaGiustina. "I am continually impressed with her adeptness in both technical and professional matters."