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Meet our space engineers

Discover their role, challenges and passion

ATM System Test Engineer

Interview with Claire Ballester, ATM System Test Engineer

First of all, please could you introduce yourself to us?

I'm Claire  and I have been working at Airbus Defence and Space for a short time so far. In fact, I am one of the 'new recruits'. 

After a six-month work placement at the end of my studies, I was offered a permanent contract. I am currently still working in the same department since joining on work experience. This shows real confidence on the part of the company and it allows me to work with peace of mind.

Can you tell us about your work? (Techniques, team, things you like, etc.)

I work in the ATM (Air Traffic Management) department as a System Test Engineer. My job is to develop a support system for air traffic controllers to assist them in their daily work. To do this, we have a team of ten people (project manager, engineers for system specifications, development engineers and validation engineers).

I am currently preparing tests (procedures and data) for the integration and validation of both software and system equipment. Once development has been completed, I will run these tests on the target platforms, which will highlight any bugs that will subsequently be corrected before deploying the system at the customer's site.

What challenges do you face in your everyday work?

I work in a multicultural, multi-generational and multi-company environment (with co-contractors and subcontractors). So you have to adapt to each team, each point of contact.

In addition, the project scope has not yet been fixed and requirements change regularly. We must therefore keep up to date and make modifications to accommodate these changes.

What is your academic and professional background?

After obtaining my scientific Baccalaureate (with honours), I did a 'PCSI/PC' physics, chemistry and engineering sciences foundation course. I subsequently won a place at the aviation-oriented university ENAC, to specialise in computer science and air traffic. I was eventually recruited into the department where I had done my end-of-studies work placement.

What qualities do you believe this profession requires?

Good analysis skills and critical thinking. Carrying out any project successfully requires you to be able to take a step back. This means being attentive to your project partners and knowing how to accept setbacks.

It also requires motivation and a genuine interest in the field. Personally, I have always been attracted to the air traffic control sector. My job as ATM System Test Engineer is a role which matched up with this passion.

What has been your favourite Airbus Defence and Space product?

ERATO which is currently the only ATM product developed by Airbus Defence and Space for civil aviation.

To be honest I am more interested in aeronautics than space. Nevertheless, working in an environment where these two worlds meet is very rewarding from both a professional point of view - the analysis and working methods are similar to those of satellite ground segments - and on a personal level, since it opens your mind.

Quality Engineer

Interview with Isabelle Desenclos, Quality Engineer

First of all, please could you introduce yourself to us?

I have been working at Airbus Defence and Space for 25 years. When I joined the company, it was called Matra Espace. In fact, I have been passionate about space from a very young age, and I have always been fascinated by the conquest and study of space. Therefore it is a privilege to work for Airbus Defence and Space, a real flagship of the space industry.

You know, it is something exceptional when your passion becomes your work.

Can you tell us about your work?

I am working as a quality engineer for satellite control centres, mainly for export. My mission is to define, implement and apply the quality assurance programme to ground systems and software/hardware for internal and external customers.To do this, I have to constantly help teams define, adapt and implement the company's processes.

I am also tasked with checking that these processes are applied. What I like about this job is the contact with the different stakeholders of a project (project managers, systems engineers, software developers, test managers, etc.). In fact, to make a process coherent and help improve it, I have to spend time with these teams to understand their working methods. So I carry out series of interviews, it is really fascinating.

What challenges do you face in your everyday work?

The biggest challenge is getting across the message 'quality first' and not 'timetable first'. As with any business relationship, the customer sets a delivery date. We are obliged to adhere to it whilst ensuring the quality of our product. This is easier said than done, in fact a satellite and its ground system, due to their complexity and their operating environments, must above all be reliable and operational for at least 15 years in the case of a communications satellite.

In short, we have to work 'quickly and thoroughly' on an exceptional product, which is no mean feat...

Which project has fascinated you the most?

You have to understand that at Airbus Defence and Space we can easily work on new projects. It is important for the development of a company to be able to tap into the different qualities of all of its employees. Therefore, management encourages internal mobility in order to stimulate our activities by our differences. Thus I have been able to fulfil an Assembly Integration and Test (AIT) quality management role on numerous satellites.

The GAIA scientific satellite project in particular, which was a fabulous experience. Both on a professional level where we followed the production of the satellite step by step with the grand finale of the launch from Kourou, but also on a human level, where team spirit is omnipresent.

You know, we still enjoy getting together now. We participated in the advent of an exceptional space study project; it was a wonderful experience.

What is your academic and professional background?

A two-year university education, a degree in physical measurement, with a materials option. I then became an engineer thanks to in-house training provided by Airbus Defence and Space. In our jargon we use the term 'home-grown engineer'. I started my career in Paris, in an analysis laboratory for electronic components in satellite electronic equipment. Then I became a components inspector. I produced component 'formulas' for manufacturers. Finally, I came to Toulouse where I held various AIT quality positions and currently I am working as a quality engineer for satellite control centres.

A career with a wide variety of experiences! But that is exactly what I was looking for; discovering new areas, participating in new challenges, working with different people, etc. It is all extremely rewarding.

What qualities and skills do you believe a quality engineer at Airbus Defence and Space requires?

Being organised, rigorous and versatile. Of course you have to be dynamic and responsive. But, if like me you are passionate about space, these qualities will come forth naturally.

To conclude, what is your favourite Airbus Defence and Space product?

A difficult question... I would say scientific satellites. The way they are made means that we really participate in projects which advance knowledge of the solar system and beyond. It is amazing to say that thanks to this type of satellite we will discover totally unknown stars and planets.

R&D Engineer

Interview with Fabien Bouffaron, R&D Engineer

First of all, please could you introduce yourself to us?

My name is Fabien, I am 26 and I come from a large family (two triplet brothers and a sister). I come from Nancy where I did all my studies at the University of Lorraine.  I have been in Toulouse since February for my first job in the industry at Airbus Defence and Space.  I am very interested in events: shows, music and festivals and I was able to work in that sector alongside my studies.

Can you tell us about your work?

Since February, I have been working as an R&D engineer in the field of ground segment systems engineering. Systems engineering is the art of having a variety of disciplines collaborate on designing, developing, upgrading and verifying a solution that will satisfy the customer's needs. My role is to identify and summarise the different engineering-related needs and define the issues on which to focus in accordance with project requirements and deadlines.

Once that has been done, I am responsible for finding ways to resolve these issues through methods, tutorials, demonstrations and training, which are then finally applied to case studies, with a view to large-scale deployment.

From a development point of view, I would like to prove myself by taking on projects as systems engineer (systems architect) and then later return to R&D. This contact with grass-roots reality is important when working in R&D, as such projects enable you to gain a concrete vision of the engineers' work and the operational constraints, while also obtaining experience and therefore legitimacy in defining solutions. 

My colleagues have made me feel very welcome. The atmosphere is very dynamic, warm and supportive.  This environment has meant that I have adapted to my new roles quickly.

What challenges do you face in your everyday work?

My first challenge was to become familiar with my professional surroundings and get my bearings within the company from an organisational point of view. I also had to train to acquire a greater insight into space, satellites and more specifically ground segments, never having worked in this area before. After that, the biggest challenge awaiting me is to succeed in promoting our R&D solutions at project level. Resistance to change is difficult to manage, thus my work is all about educating, training and communicating with engineers to demonstrate the benefits and added value of our proposals.

What is your academic and professional background?

After a scientific Baccalaureate with an engineering sciences option, I took an EEAR degree (Electronics, Electrical Engineering, Automation and Network) at the University of Lorraine. The degree was my opportunity to acquire the solid technical foundations for exercising my profession. After that, I did a research Master's in Complex Systems Engineering, during which I discovered the profession of systems engineer. While I was on that course, I became involved in a project/work placement at the CRAN (Nancy Automation Research Centre) laboratory which sparked my interest in how safety requirements were taken into account during the system design phase.

Finally, I continued my studies as a PhD student at the CRAN laboratory in the field of systems engineering.  My PhD work concerned 'executable model-based co-specification' applied to conducting a critical industrial process.  During my PhD, I also lectured at the University of Lorraine in the fields of automation, software engineering and systems engineering.

The position I hold today corresponds to the various expectations I had of providing distinct engineering solutions to resolve 'grass-root' project issues, or in other words, to be close to industrial considerations.

What qualities and skills do you believe your profession requires?

I think curiosity, attentiveness to both research and engineering points of view, as well as having an analytical mind, are the fundamental qualities needed for this job. You also have to be dynamic, be able to impart knowledge and call yourself into question in order to develop continuously.

Which project has fascinated you the most?

What is interesting in R&D engineering is that we have the opportunity to take part in numerous projects. This enables us to work on a broad spectrum of activities within the company. The project which has captured my interest the most so far is the R&D project Export Ground Segment Modelling - PeruSat. The aim of this project is to demonstrate what modelling brings to the design phase of a ground segment system.

This project stands out for me because it gave me insight into the profession and into the engineering of a ground segment, coordinating with a number of engineers from various fields having participated in the design of the system.

To conclude, what is your favourite Airbus Defence and Space product?

If I had to choose only one, I must admit that I was particularly fascinated by Rosetta and its Philae lander. I admire the success of a project whose initial objective of landing on a comet might have seemed 'crazy', and the ingenuity and engineering implemented to achieve that goal, along with the many ups and downs during its mission, from the trip from Earth to landing on the comet. I am looking forward to Philae coming out of hibernation and the information it might reveal about the comet. 

Technical Manager

Interview with Steven Richard, Technical Manager

First of all, please could you introduce yourself to us?

My name is Steven, I come from Brittany, married with two children. I am a great computer enthusiast. One of my other passions is tennis which I play competitively at a regional level.

Can you tell us about your work?

I am the technical manager for the MOeCAPP project. This project is carried out within our Air Traffic Management division.  MOeCAPP brings together the IT, software and hardware resources required for air traffic control missions during approach phases.  It is a co-contracted project. Our partner is working on production while Airbus Defence and Space is working on the technical management of the programme and engineering/integration/system validation activities developed by Sogeti.  Even though I work for Airbus Defence and Space, my position covers the whole consortium.

And as a little sideline for my department, we are also working on CAUTRA, and we are developing ERATO for DSNA and Italy, we are involved in the SESAR programme regarding flight safety, and many other activities besides...

What challenges do you face in your everyday work?

The challenges I face arise because MOeCAPP is a consortium. My relationship with the co-contractor is not based on hierarchy. As my integration/validation activities can only be performed after those of our partner, early involvement is required with the project manager to guarantee activities and anticipate mishaps. The other big challenge I face is that I represent the image of Airbus Defence and Space, not only to the co-contractor but also the customer. It is a great responsibility which is sometimes difficult to carry out alone.

What is your academic and professional background?

I did a scientific Baccalaureate and then a vocational Master's foundation course, with an IT option. I chose to attend the EISTI engineering school which seemed to have a more technical leaning than the other schools for which I was eligible. What I also liked about the EISTI establishment was that it fosters numerous partnerships with other schools. I was therefore able to complete a specialised Master's in image processing at the ENSEA engineering school during my final year.

My course also involved work placements. I started working on simulators at a competing company. After graduation, I started subcontracting for Airbus, then I went to Thalès, next I did subcontracting for Rockwell Collins, and then finally returned to Airbus Defence and Space, where I have now been working for some time.

What qualities do you believe this profession requires?

I think several qualities are essential. Firstly, empathy: you have to be very attentive to understand all the requirements, whether those of customers or of co-contractors.   Another quality that comes to mind is creativity. I am often confronted by architectures, designs or code from another age and I have to find solutions to overcome their obsolescence while maintaining quality of service. That requires real creativity.

What has been your favourite Airbus Defence and Space product?

No doubt about it:WorldEM! WorldEM is an Earth mapping tool by a public-private partnership between the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and Airbus Defence and Space with funding from the BMWi. It has a relative resolution of 2 metres and absolute resolution of 4 metres with a final mesh of 12 metres.  Until now there was only American SRTM data with a 90 metre mesh for European ground and 30 metres for American ground. I can see many applications for it in air navigation and on board aircraft.

Mechanical Design Engineer

Interview with Cécile Biaiso, Mechanical Design Engineer

First of all, please could you introduce yourself to us?

My name is Cécile and I have been an engineer at Airbus Defence and Space for 15 years. I am proactive, enthusiastic and committed. I love learning and making progress technically-speaking as well as gaining knowledge in terms of management, teamwork and customer relations. I am a level 2 diver and a novice runner, hoping to finish the 22 km SaintéLyon race.

Can you tell us about your work? (Techniques, team, things you like, etc.)?

A few months ago, I joined the communications satellites mechanical design office. I am responsible for the development of the service module. I check that there is no 'clash' between the different items of equipment. An example of a clash is the lack of adequate access for mounting equipment during assembly or disassembly operations, or the inability to place equipment correctly, because other components are in the way.

This job requires mechanical skills and specialist knowledge. The role leads to the construction of a distinct object (the satellite) and what we do is crucial to avoiding problems during assembly phases.

What challenges do you face in your everyday work?

The challenge consists in conducting clash analyses and technical studies in accordance with the project schedule, while satisfying minor day-to-day demands. First and foremost it involves teamwork and to succeed you have to take each other's needs into account and learn from working with everyone.

What has been your favourite project during your career and why?

I have had the opportunity to work on tenders and particularly enjoyed it. Huge workloads and short deadlines, technical proposals to come up with to meet customer requirements, negotiations, etc. It is all very exciting and immensely satisfying when we find out that the customers has chosen us! It is a collective reward: working on a tender really brings out the team spirit and everybody works towards a common goal.

What is your academic and professional background?

I did a scientific Baccalaureate specialising in Mathematics, to open up my options for higher education as much as possible.

First, I completed a short course with work experience to obtain a university diploma in IT. My results allowed me to pursue a four-year vocational university course and obtain a degree in IT, involving long work placements every year. I finally concluded my studies with a Master's degree in Computer Systems Engineering.

All my work placements helped with my gradual integration into the corporate world and enabled me to make a name for myself.
That was how Airbus Defence and Space, formerly Matra Marconi Space, offered me a job after I graduated.

What qualities do you believe this profession requires?

  • Commitment. You have to be dedicated to your job, which is beneficial both professionally as well as personally.
  • Rigour. We work on complex programs where it is important to minimise the risk of error Team spirit. 
  • Engineering is all about knowing how to integrate your expertise into a team profile, to take the overall project forward.

What has been your favourite Airbus Defence and Space product?

The GAIA satellite: GAIA will map our galaxy in three dimensions, estimating the distances of stars from Earth and their speeds. In addition to this astrometry mission, GAIA will discover and record tens of thousands of previously unknown objects including brown and white dwarfs, supernovae, dwarf planets and asteroids in the solar system... and the eagerly-awaited exoplanets.

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