To mark Space Week we caught up with Hannah Currivan, a Space Systems Engineer/Reliability Engineer at Réaltra Space Systems Engineering, to find out more about the space industry in Ireland, what it offers to young professionals and the value of the Space Industry Skillnet to a vibrant and growing community.
At Réaltra Space Systems Engineering Hannah works on the European Space Agency (ESA) mission PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) on the Payload Interface Unit (PLIU) and also the Ariane Group on delivering the Independent Video Kit (VIKI) for Ariane 6 rocket.
How much has the space industry changed in Ireland since you started working in the industry?
I have only recently started out on my career journey, and already I have witnessed significant developments in the industry. This year the Irish government has set out a National Space Strategy for Ireland as part of Project Ireland 2040. This will hopefully bring more investment into the Irish Space Industry.
On a personal level, as of September 2019 I have been working with the Technological University of Dublin to discuss the beginning of its very own space research group which will be focused on developing students for the space industry from undergraduate level through to research masters and PhDs.
Have you always wanted a career in the space sector?
From the age of 12 I wanted to study physics because I loved watching documentaries on astronomy and space science. Prior to this, I wanted to be a historian. The funny thing is I planned to watch a history documentary on ancient Egypt one day when I was around 12 years old, but what came on instead was “The Universe” documentary which was about “how the Sun was formed”, and ever since then I wanted to be a physicist/engineer. So, my interest in history made me a physicist.
I have been very lucky to have been a member of the construction team for I-LOFAR which is a radio telescope in Birr Co. Offaly. As part of my Physics degree I got to operate I-LOFAR for my thesis, where I observed a supernova remnant (Cas A) which is 11,000 light years away, Radio Galaxy (Cygnus A) which is 3200 light years away, and a Black Hole (Cygnus X-3) which is 3200 light years away. It was this project that made me want to be involved in the space industry and be allowed to contribute to such an amazing adventure.
Many people automatically think of being an astronaut when they think of careers in the space sector, but tell us about some of the other routes and rewarding roles in the Irish sector?
You don’t have to be an astronaut, a physicist or a space system engineer to work in the space industry! Like all other sectors, the space industry needs talent across a multitude of roles from project managers, human resources professionals, space law specialists, accountants, liaison officers, office administrators to bid managers. There are endless career opportunities within the space sector in Ireland for those willing to seek them out.
What new space industry jobs do you think will emerge in the future?
Mining for materials on earth is a huge part of the industry, but there are limited resources here. I believe space mining is the next big job in the space industry, and also advancements in the manufacturing and designing of cube sats.
Tell us about your education and early career?
I completed my leaving certificate in 2013 where I choose physics, chemistry, applied maths, and geography as my subjects. I then carried out a BSc (Hons) in Physics with Energy and Environment from the Technological University of Dublin (TUD), and an MSc Space Science & Technology at University College Dublin.
My work history has been very varied from being a research assistant in the area of physics education at Technological University of Dublin, Particle Physics summer intern at the University of Glasgow, Plasma physics research assistant at Technological University of Dublin, Astrophysics Research assistant and I-LOFAR builder at Trinity College Dublin and Birr Castle, Technological University of Dublin Student Ambassador, Engineering intern/Data engineer at InnaLabs, Spacecraft operations trainee at the European Space Agency, Physics Lab demonstrator at University College Dublin, Science Leader at the college of sciences at University College Dublin, and Student ambassador at University College Dublin.
What’s the most interesting part of your job?
Working and helping to design payload for space missions such as PLATO for the European Space Agency to be eventually put into orbit called Lagrange point 2 (L2) which is around 1.5million kilometres from earth. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself! Also having the opportunities to meet with the European Space Agency, OHB, and the Ariane Group to discuss projects we are working on together.
And the most challenging part?
I really like my job because it is challenging and fresh every day. Within the space industry, you have multiple deadlines to get your work done, this is one of the bigger challenges as work must be met with very high standard, but once meet it is very fulfilling.
What key factors have driven the development of the space industry sector in Ireland?
Investment of funds and in people have driven the development of the Irish Space Industry. The launch of the National Space Strategy has helped spark general public interest in the industry and that is hugely beneficial. Outreach weeks such as Space Week and Science Week really help to inspire a new generation of enthusiasts. Finally, having the Space Industry Skillnet is incredibly important as it gives people working within the space industry the opportunity to expand on their existing skills and supports individuals to obtain the skills needed to be part of the space industry.
What’s the one bit of advice you would give to a graduate entering the space industry sector?
I would highly recommend graduates undertake a masters in the area of the space industry after completing your undergraduate degree. Make sure you gain skills in organisation and time management as this is key to a successful mission, in addition to your technical skills.
About the Space Industry Skillnet
The Space Industry Skillnet is a learning network for companies of all sizes in the space sector. Member companies work collaboratively to share best practice and to respond effectively to the specific skills needs of the sector. The network addresses both technical and non-technical skill needs of members.