Each year, we’re amazed and inspired by the tenacity, passion and talent of our interns, and this year’s cohort is as impressive as always! Interns at Virgin Orbit aren’t making coffee runs — they’re working on actual spaceflight hardware, learning the ins and outs of the launch business, and executing critical tasks to support the goals of their respective teams.
For National Intern Day, we wanted to celebrate those valued contributions and highlight a few of our superstar interns from this summer’s cohort. Read on to learn more about Donovan N’Gum (Avionics), Maor Gozalzani (Integration), and Sophie Eberhardt (Propulsion).
North Carolina State University, Class of 2024
A rising sophomore originally from North Carolina, Donovan N’Gum has the distinction of being the youngest intern in this year’s cohort. Despite his age, he’s confident about pursuing a future in aerospace — and that drive, in addition to a stacked resume, also secured him a spot in the inaugural class of the highly competitive Patti Grace Smith Fellowship. “I remember in middle school playing Kerbal Space Program,” he said. “Little things like that have inspired me to make sure this where I spend my career.”
As part of the Avionics team at Virgin Orbit, Donovan has spent a lot of his time this summer building his Python skills: “I’m developing software in Python for avionics testing,” he said. “I build dashboards for data reviews and I’ve also conducted some investigations for anomalies on our Hardware-in-the-Loop (HITL) test bench.”
Not only has Donovan contributed to data analysis from our most recent flight, Tubular Bells: Part One, he’s now helping the team prepare for future missions, too. “I’m also helping to develop a model for our battery consumption on the rocket, taking all of the battery-consuming components into consideration so we can better plan our missions and make better use of our battery capacity,” he said.
To other students hoping to land similar internships, Donovan recommends highlighting your passions even outside of academics. “Even if you’re not really confident in your skills, never feel like doing a personal project is a waste of time. Most employers, especially in aerospace, will value you taking initiative, and it’s not always about being in clubs,” he said.
Washington University in St. Louis, Class of 2023
For Sophie Eberhardt, working alongside the Propulsion team at our Mojave test site has been the experience of a lifetime. “I’m originally from the East Coast, so it was definitely a bit of a shock to come into the 110-degree dry heat,” she said. “But aside from the weather, I’ve personally had an incredible experience. This went way above my expectations. I’ve learned more than I ever could have hoped to learn, and I’m really, really grateful for it.”
During her tenure at Virgin Orbit, Sophie has primarily worked on LauncherOne’s second stage engine, NewtonFour, pushing our next flight engine through acceptance testing as well as supporting hotfires on development hardware. “I spend a lot of my time just working with the technicians soaking in the hands-on experience I’m able to get at Virgin Orbit,” she said. “I also have several projects I’m working on,” such as redesigning some of the fluid systems that support NewtonFour.
Additionally, Sophie has spent hours training to become a certified console operator. At Virgin Orbit, console operators facilitate test site activities from our Mission Control Center in Mojave. They’re responsible for managing various test objectives, supporting the technicians on the test stand, and also overseeing operations like leak checks and engine purges prior to hotfires.
To make the most out of your internship, Sophie believes it’s important to never be afraid to ask questions. Leaning on her fellow teammates has allowed her to overcome every challenge thrown her way throughout her internship: “A large part of that is because anytime I was stuck on something, I had tons of support from the engineers and the technicians at the site. They would always be there to help me find solutions,” she said.
One of Sophie’s major bits of advice for other aerospace students and interns is to avoid letting imposter syndrome hold you back. “It’s a really competitive field, so you have to believe in yourself,” she said. “I know it can be very easy to doubt your abilities, so I think you just have to keep reminding yourself that you put in the work, and you deserve to be wherever it is that you are.”
Purdue University, Class of 2022
Maor Gozalzani is a senior studying Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at Purdue University. At school, he spends a lot of his free time supporting Purdue Space Program, the
local SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) chapter, and working on projects in Purdue’s Zucrow Labs, the largest academic propulsion lab in the country.
At Virgin Orbit, Maor has been working to diversify his engineering skills as part of the Integration team — and even had the opportunity to work on the LauncherOne rocket that flew into space earlier this summer. “I’ve been focused on payload integration: working with the fairing, the payload assembly, and the dispensers,” he said. “I shadowed technicians as they were doing their last checkouts, and as we finished, I started looking into some things that we could improve on moving forward.”
Watching that rocket blast into orbit was the pinnacle of his internship experience so far. “Getting to see those fairings separate and the payloads deploy… it’s hard to describe, but it was a really, really cool feeling,” he said.
“I think my biggest takeaway is seeing the power and determination that is created from a team having a shared goal,” Maor said. “Everyone here at Virgin Orbit is very committed to opening access to space for everyone through small satellite launch. Every team has their own goals, but at the end of the day, we’re all working towards the same mission, and everyone really rallies behind that to push through difficult challenges.”