D'oh!! Ah well :) It was great talking to all of you - thanks for the questions!!
I started my career in finance, which I did for two years before deciding it wasn’t for me. I then worked at a firm called SSBV, building parts for small satellites.
I’m an Earth Observation Systems Engineer
I now work at the European Space Agency’s technical base in the Netherlands, called ESTEC.
I’m a systems engineer at the European Space Agency’s Future Missions division
I work at the European Space Agency in the Netherlands. My job is very varied, working on all kinds of projects to design the next “Earth Observation” satellites that will be launched. These are the satellites that look down on the Earth, watching it in all kinds of ways to determine how the planet works and what effects we’re having on it. At the moment, there are around 120 such satellites looking at the Earth in many different ways, with all kinds of sensors such as cameras, radars and magnetic field detectors. This information is used everyday on the ground by farmers looking to look after their crops, climatologists measuring the ice caps and many others.
My job is to design the satellites themselves. Teams of scientists come to us with a new idea or a new sensor they would like to put in space. My team and I look at these suggestions, work out what the best ideas are, and then design a satellite to carry that sensor. Since every sensor is different, so is every satellite! The best thing about this kind of work is that I get to learn about all the different parts of a satellite and how they work together, rather than being an expert on just one part.
Also, we do some smaller projects which aren’t connected to any particular satellite, but are more general ideas for the future – for example, we are looking to find way to make sure that things that fall out of the sky have basically zero chance of hitting anyone or anything!
My Typical Day
I create, read about and evaluate ideas for satellites
The work I do is very variable – each day is different. The only constant is the time of lunch with my friends here!
There’s a lot of reading! These satellites we design are too complicated for any one person to do themselves so many people need to exchange ideas and expertise. Further, because they are very expensive to build, we need to make sure we get it right all the way. There’s basically no chance to repair something if it breaks, so we spend a lot of time checking each others’ work.
But it is not only reading – it it were, nothing would ever be built! I design things, dream up better ways to make the designs work and test the designs that others make.
Most of my day is spent at my computer in an office. Other engineers work in labs, doing more hands-on things, but my work now is all done with software tools. Some of these you’ll know – like Excel (yes, even we use this for really complicated stuff!) – but other programs we have are so complicated and specific that maybe only 10 people in the world know how to use it..!
Here’s my office and my computer where I work all day. Believe it or not, but this is the most paper-free office I know of – it seems spacecraft engineers really like printing things…
What I'd do with the money
Haven’t thought that far ahead.. so we’ll have to see!
Really, I don’t care about winning the money or winning at all for that matter! My main motivation is to talk about what I do and hopefully explain a little about what it’s like in this field. I love talking about space stuff 🙂
If I did win, well, I guess I’d have to think of something real quick! Perhaps you have some good ideas for me?
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
I’d say rational, creative and enthusiastic
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Impossible to say, it changes every day! Right now I’m listening to Sigur Ros, so I’ll say that :)
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
So many things! I tend to find climbing mountains to be very fun :)
What did you want to be after you left school?
I wanted to be an astronaut!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No, I was pretty shy and quiet.. how things change…
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
Some of the things I have built with my own hands have gone into space!
If you weren't an engineer, what would you be?
Neurologist… brains are fascinating…
This is the entrance to our office. I used to walk past this satellite model every day, but they took it down recently because it was really windy and stormy here recently. Note the Canadian flag – not Europe, but part of the European Space Agency, believe it or not!
This is one of my favourite things here at ESTEC, the Large Space Simulator. As the name suggests, it’s use to simulate space. It’s really cold in there, and a complete vacuum. Added to that, there’s a MASSIVE light that acts like the sun so you can test solar panels and make sure they whole thing doesn’t get too hot. Also – it’s large: taller than a house. That spacecraft in there is GOCE, which was recently in the news. It is a satellite designed to measure the pull of gravity and how it changes around the world.
More to come – I’ll snap them as I walk around and add them!