Welcome to the latest feature in our ‘Day in the life’ series with Theodora Varelidi-Strati our Space Operations Engineer.

Theodora Varelidi Strati - Space Operations Engineer - In-Space Missions

What did you study at school?

I went to school in Greece where I took the International Baccalaureate, I particularly enjoyed physics and maths as well as a theatre course which was very creative and gave me a balance in my studies.

How did you become a Space Operations Engineer?

I studied Astrophysics at University, and I recently graduated with a 2nd Level Master in Space Exploration and Development Systems (SEEDS) from Politecnico di Torino in Italy. During my masters I was introduced to different space companies and opportunities which made me realise how diverse and interesting this sector is and that I wanted to specialise in space for my career.

Was it an enjoyable journey from studying to working?

The timing was not great as I graduated with my masters during the pandemic, so it was challenging finishing studies and then applying for jobs. I tried to not be deflated so I went to lots of virtual events and conferences and tried to remain inspired and motivated and remember why I wanted to work in this industry.

What sparked your interest in space?

I was always interested in space. I remember my parents would buy me books about planets and at the age of 14, I had the opportunity to attend a summer space camp in Turkey for a few weeks. We learned about future space exploration and how astronauts train. There were lots of different activities and very hands on, so it made a really big impression on me at a young age.

What key things must a Spacecraft Operations Engineer do in their role?

Space Operations Engineers need to perform a number of key tasks including mission planning, satellite monitoring and control. They support the testing, scheduling and execution of in-flight operations, provide operational support to the Spacecraft Operations Manager, while part of the role is focused on the automation of different processes. It involves every phase of a mission and working with everyone across the team.

This is my first graduate job, so my involvement has all been post-launch of the spacecraft. I am very much looking forward to being involved in the whole life cycle of a mission.

My job varies every day as dealing with the spacecraft in orbit has its own challenges and can have a shift in priorities regularly depending on what is happening. A lot of the time is devoted to planning the activities that need to take place for the different payloads.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?

When I started the job a couple of weeks in, I was lucky enough to see the launch of Faraday Phoenix! It was an exciting time to start and particularly when we received the first signal from the spacecraft and then to be able to operate it, both were special moments.
Communicating with the spacecraft is very satisfying especially when you work through your activities and sort any issues out then you receive the data that you want, it is a great feeling.

Is there a phase during any project that is particularly intense?

Waiting for the signal from the spacecraft after launch!

What work experience did you have while you were studying?

I completed different research projects when I was at University. During my masters, I completed an international project work that dealt with the design of a human space exploration mission. It was a 6-month project that gave me a good understanding of the different mission phases and engineering processes that are required during mission planning. It was very helpful for getting this job with ISML.

After graduating, I also did an internship with a space law company, First Steps Legal, as a Data Analyst. This experience helped me develop my programming skills and understanding of databases.

What inspires you most about space and how it affects us on Earth?

Space plays such an important role and has already given a lot of technological advancements to help our life on Earth. It is a very exciting industry to be in as everything moves and advances quickly. There are so many interesting innovations that happen all the time, push the boundaries and allow us to explore space, with many space applications that have a direct impact. For example, Earth Observation has made a huge impact in fields such as disaster monitoring and delivering aid to remote areas after fire or flooding. Without the satellites orbiting Earth, we would not have made such progress. This technology has the capabilities to help us improve life on Earth in many ways and is really satisfying to be part of this industry.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I enjoy travelling and exploring different cities in the UK and abroad when it is allowed! I love spending time with family and friends especially when I can go back home to Greece. I also enjoy reading, particularly mysteries, going to the theatre and writing articles on space exploration and sustainable development.

Article  by In-Space Missions
Date: 10th May 2022