In 2021, World Space Week is celebrating women in space. Lucia Pigliaru, a product assurance and safety engineer, is one of RHEA’s many engineers and scientists working in the space sector.
She shares her experiences of working on high profile projects within the European Space Agency (ESA) and explains why space is such an exciting sector to work in.
What part of ESA do you work in and what does your job entail?
I work at ESTEC in the Netherlands, which is the European Space Research and Technology Centre. Currently I’m providing support for the Copernicus programme, mainly on the Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 satellite missions, and also on ROSE-L, which is one of the Copernicus expansion missions.
The role of a product assurance and safety engineer is to make sure all the processes to build satellites, and all the parts, are compliant with relevant quality standards and rules. I am part of a team supporting the senior manager for each mission and have a lot of autonomy.
Around 60% of my job is engineering. The rest could best be described as using my management and organizational skills, including ‘soft’ skills, to keep activities moving along and ensure the right actions happen with no blockages.
My job is really varied, which is important to me because I am happiest when I am learning something new!
How long have you worked in the space sector – and why?
I have worked in the space sector for 11 years. I was always interested in science and technology, and then at high school I became captivated by astronomy and space exploration, so I wanted to build a career in space.
I studied aerospace engineering at university and then, after a brief job in general engineering, I got a role in a relatively small space company before getting the job at ESA. I think that working in a small company at the beginning of my career was very useful because I was involved in so many interesting tasks from the start – there are a lot of exciting things being done by these small space companies.
Would you recommend a career in the space sector to other women?
Definitely! Working in space is extremely challenging but also inspiring. It allows you to be exposed to the most innovative technologies that can be re-utilized on Earth in many other fields, such as medical and automotive. Also, you can be involved in high profile and exciting space missions, working together with industry, universities, research centres and other space agencies in a collaborative environment.
Around 20% of the people where I work are women and I think that’s quite typical for space. But that is growing – I see more and more young female engineers applying for jobs in this sector.
Do you have any tips for young women trying to get jobs in space?
Sometimes as women we tend to doubt ourselves and not believe that we can be good enough when pursuing our dream job. The message that I would like to pass to young women looking for a job in space is to believe more in themselves and their capabilities.
Studying and hard work are, of course, important, but I think it is also crucial to have the right attitude in knowing who we are, being confident in our capabilities and not being afraid to shine.
Also, I believe it is important for us all – men and women – to work together to facilitate a change of mentality around this. This can be as simple as speaking with our family, friends and colleagues about the challenges of being a woman in a technical environment. This is not just the case for space but more broadly across industry, and is also an issue around groups that are currently not proportionately represented. I think the next generation can do a lot about that – and some already are, which is really thrilling.
What is the most memorable highlight from your career?
When I was selected to work for ESA, it was one of the happiest moments of my life! It was my dream job, so it was a big confirmation that I really was capable of doing that kind of role in a major space organization.