What is your name?
Name of Company/Organisation you work for:
University College Dublin (UCD)
What is your position in the company/organisation?
Flight software & operations scientist
Tell us a little about the company you work for and how it’s involved in the space sector
As part of my job at UCD, I work on the team developing Ireland’s first satellite, ‘EIRSAT-1’ or the Educational Irish Research Satellite. EIRSAT-1 is a 2U CubeSat, a small satellite measuring in units (U) of 10cm x 10cm x 10cm that has been designed, built and tested by a team of students, early career scientists and staff at UCD. The EIRSAT-1 project is being supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), under the Fly Your Satellite! program.
Questions about your current Job
How did you get your current job?
I undertook a 2-year research masters (MSc) at UCD. During this MSc, I became involved in the EIRSAT-1 project, which led to a PhD focused on software development and testing for the project. I submitted my PhD thesis early this year (2023) and I am now working with the EIRSAT-1 team as a flight software & operations scientist.
Describe a typical day.
Earlier in the project, my day primarily consisted of developing and testing software with the satellite’s hardware involved, known as ‘hardware-in-the-loop’ (HIL) testing. The hardware is situated in EIRSAT-1’s clean room, however, as we have a set-up that supports remote working for software development, I primarily worked outside of the clean room, at my desk at home or in the office at UCD. Now that the software is in a more flight-ready state, my day primarily involves preparations for and carrying out operator training, where the wider team learn how to interface with the flight software to command and control EIRSAT-1 on orbit. This involves a few team members at a time, sitting at the EIRSAT-1 Operations Station, commanding the satellite to carry out tasks in the same way that we intend to do during the actual mission. To make this more representative of flight, we also include some difficult aspects of on orbit operations into this training, such as highly limited communication times between the satellite that is “in orbit” and the ground station at UCD.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes, I get to do a job I really enjoy and be around people who feel similarly excited and enthusiastic about what they are doing.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
Travelling to conferences and test facilities and getting to meet with really interesting people.
Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?
It’s quite easy to get completely absorbed in your work. This can be a really good thing but also bad at the same time! It happens because you enjoy and love what you are doing and so you want to do it to the best of your ability, but this can affect work-life balance if not managed to some extent. This “managing” takes time to figure out though and is different for everyone!
Questions about education and training
What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?
I took physics and chemistry in secondary school. I then completed a BSc in Physics with Astrophysics at Maynooth University. I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do as a career when I was in secondary school or university but I have always chosen subjects/modules that I enjoy with the hope that these would lead me to a career that I also enjoy.
What non-technical skills are necessary for your job?
Team working and communication skills are major part of my job.
How did you develop those 21st Century Skills?
I have worked on these skills overtime. I have had opportunities to develop them through other avenues, e.g. during my time on a camogie team, but I am still continuously looking to grow them through my experiences on the EIRSAT-1 team and other experiences, such as outreach events, where I must also learn to communicate my work in a different way/to different audiences.
Questions about yourself
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Being able to partake in the build and testing of Ireland’s first satellite (this will hopefully soon be superseded by the launch and operations of Ireland’s first satellite!). On a number of occasions, software support has been necessary to debug and/or overcome an issue that was encountered during EIRSAT-1’s test campaigns. It has been very rewarding to be able to provide this support to the mission.
What is your dream job?
A job in which I continue to work on software and operations development for future space missions.
Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice
What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example.
This job is very well suited to those who enjoy a challenge and problem solving. This is important as much of your time might be spent trying to track down a bug in the software and/or to think of a way to overcome it.