Andrea from RHEA Group

Andrea – Earth Observation and AI Specialist Project Manager

Andrea is an Earth Observation and AI Specialist Project Manager at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESRIN) in Frascati, Italy. He has the unusual accolade of having one of his photographs on the cover of an ESA astronaut’s bestselling book.

How long have you worked at RHEA?

I have worked at RHEA for 12 years, starting as a System Engineer at the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESRIN) in Frascati, Italy, in 2010. Since then, due to my developer background and my focus on emerging technologies, I have undertaken some projects in the field of AI applied to space.

What made you want to work in the space sector?

This is not something that I planned. Instead, during my first year of university, by chance I found an opportunity to work as a developer in the space sector – more precisely on the Envisat Ground Segment – and was totally thrilled to be part of that. This was my very first assignment in late 1998, so it is almost 24 years since I started working in this sector.

What is your favourite aspect of the job?

I grow up in the era when home computing was slowly entering our lives; my first one was a Commodore 128 when I was 10 years old. I was fascinated by the idea of having a system able to perform any kind of task, even complex ones, starting from a need and an idea. I always had a ‘creative’ mind and tried to find the most efficient, automated ways to solve problems or simple, tedious, repetitive tasks.

I love the challenge of being faced by an issue that needs to be solved and the mental process involved in finding alternative ways to reach a goal: also, how to simplify our lives wherever possible. These are some of the main reasons that I love my job. Doing this with the support of awesome technologies like AI makes things even more satisfying. I totally believe in this and I continue to develop small personal applications for myself as well.

Would you recommend a career in your sector to others?

Yes, for sure! It is not only a matter of using advanced and emerging technologies; after all, you could apply the same concepts and the same algorithms in several different fields. It is doing this in the space context that makes it so interesting. This is a unique environment where everyone can be part of it due to its intrinsic interdisciplinarity.

If you start with a ‘simple’ satellite, then depending on your background and knowledge, you can find different problems, different solutions and different answers. These can range from traditional environmental monitoring to social impacts from urban growth, ground feature detection, cultural heritage monitoring and preservation, land change analysis, monitoring access to water bodies in poor regions and so on… the list is almost infinite.

What has been your most memorable career highlight?

It was when I attended my first satellite launch at ESRIN on 1 May 2002. I still remember the mix of nervousness and excitement. That was a one-shot event: failure or success. No backup, no plan B. Envisat has been the world’s largest civilian Earth observation satellite of all time. I was really excited and proud to have contributed, in my own small way, to one of the most ambitious missions ever made in this field.

How does RHEA encourage you to live its values of trust, collaboration and commitment?

Due to the varied experiences and personal knowledge present across the company it is always possible to build up a team able to respond to any client request in almost every field. Of course we have our flagship products with associated highly skilled expertise, but often we find opportunities to exploit these talents in different contexts as well.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Where to start? I have too many passions and hobbies, and time is never sufficient for all of them! I like playing guitar – a few years ago some RHEA colleagues and I put together a band just for fun, although unfortunately we never played live – and listening to music.

I also like taking pictures and teaching photography classes, practicing sports (currently Judo, where I am preparing for my black belt exams), reading books (Stephen King is my favourite author) and comics. I tried to combine my passion for the music and photography by creating a webzine named Diapason Vibe (www.diapasonvibe.it) for which a friend and I shoot live concerts, which is a really thrilling experience.

Tell us something unusual about yourself

I used to be president of the ESA ESRIN Photography Club. In 2014, two years after one of our training sessions, a participant’s wife contacted me because her friend was looking for a photographer for an exclusive event. The American University of Rome was presenting musician Roger Waters with an Honoris Causa Degree in recognition of his widespread artistic and social activity during the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings in Anzio where his father, Eric Fletcher Waters, died. This gave me the chance to meet and take pictures of one of my favourite musicians.

The same year, I took some pictures of Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano during the Tweet-up event in ESRIN and shared one on social media. Five years later, a publisher asked my permission to use it for the cover of a new edition of Luca Parmitano’s book ‘Volare. Lo spazio e altre sfide’. It was amazing to have my copy of the book featuring my picture signed by Luca during the book presentation.

I have these two pictures printed on my desk to remind me how often things can move in a totally unexpected direction, even after several years.