Tell us about your role?
I am currently working at the European Space Agency in the Directorate of Earth Observation for the Sentinel-2 Project as a System Operations and Optical Communications Payload Engineer.
As a system engineer I need to have a complete overview of the spacecraft and how each of the systems interact. In my current role I am focusing on the operations aspects and how we can and will control all the spacecraft systems and sub-systems after its launch. This role involves a lot of interactions with the spacecraft manufacturer and the operations center.
Describe a typical day?
My daily activities normally involve a lot of meetings and discussions, usually with the in-house team, but also with external parties. With only one year until the launch, the days can be quite dynamic, so I have to be flexible and quick to react.
What are the things you like best about the job?
I love travelling and meeting new people and there is no shortage of both in my job. In fact it has taken me to some of the most interesting places in the world. For the launch of my previous project I was in (Baikonur) Kazakhstan and saw the launch pad used by Yuri Gagarin, and that was part of the job! The job often presents problems and I love sitting around the table with people from all over Europe trying to find solutions. The best feeling of all is acquiring the first signals from space from the spacecraft you have worked on for the last years.
What are the main challenges?
As is the case for many companies and large organisations, there are administration tasks that are not much fun. Who or what has most influenced your career direction? My family has always been very supportive of my career choice and was active in encouraging me to contact people in the industry. My tutor at university was instrumental in my career choice. During my time at university I did some additional projects (such as a report on the success of aerospace companies in Canada) and he supported this, helping to get funding for a visit to these companies.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Certainly, I enjoy travelling and meeting new people and this job has allowed me to get my fair share of both.
What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?
I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be involved in an engineering field so the subjects I chose were already pointing me in this direction: physics, chemistry, technical drawing, geography and German
What is your education to date?
I went to Maria Immaculata Secondary School, Dunmanway, in Co. Cork, then University of Bristol, where I completed a BEng (Hons) in Aeronautical Engineering with German. I then completed a Masters in Space Studies, in the International Space University (ISU), in Strasbourg, France.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
Being a systems engineer, all aspects are relevant, but the ability to approach a problem from a different angle and to question everything has proven extremely important. As part of my Masters I did a three-month internship at NASA Goddard on the project MAP. At that time the project was in its early stages and I was given the task of setting up the traceability for all the requirements. This gave me an excellent insight into the interactions between the spacecraft systems and shadowing the system manager for the project allowed me the witness the job in real-time.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Do subjects that you enjoy. Engineering requires maths and physics, so having an aptitude in these subjects is a pre-requisite – enjoying them makes it a lot easier! Seek out people working in the field and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Anything that offers some hands-on experience is a bonus; many companies now offer internships and this is a good way to get to see the job in action first hand.