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Caoimhe Rooney, a postgraduate researcher in the Mathematical Institute, applied for an award from the EPSRC National Productivity Investment Fund managed by MPLS Division. It enabled her to take part in the 2018 International Space University Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program in Australia, aimed at those hoping to enter the space industry. Here Caoimhe writes about that experience and what she hopes to do next.

Caoimhe Rooney

My participation in the 2018 International Space University Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program (ISU SH-SSP18) was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From a young age I have been fascinated by space, and intrigued by the scientific advances being made within the space industry. It has been a dream of mine to bridge the gap between mathematics and space science, and this programme has allowed me the opportunity to do so.

The programme is an interdisciplinary course aimed at aspiring space scientists and entrepreneurs. I was one of 50 international participants, whose professional background ranged from aerospace engineering students to those working in China’s mission control, and from medical doctors to lawyers. The international and interdisciplinary nature of the course opened my eyes to the vastness of opportunities within the space industry, and allowed me to hear first-hand about many of these.

The programme was located in Adelaide, Australia, and involved an intense 8.00am – 10.30pm schedule, including weekends! For the first three weeks, the general structure involved morning lectures, followed by afternoon workshops and evening team-building activities, which eventually developed into team research projects. The final two weeks were focused on the team projects, and ended with two reports and a presentation to our peers and members of the space community.

I enjoyed the lectures most of all, as we were taught by leading experts such as MIT professors, NASA scientists and even the only Korean astronaut! Their knowledge and experience were invaluable, and their passion contagious. We had lectures on space medicine, space psychology, space law and even spacesuit design, as well as more familiar territory such as orbital dynamics, jet propulsion and cosmology. The lectures that captivated me most included one on how to use space-based technology for sustainable development on earth, as well as the introduction to CubeSats, small satellites made from off-the-shelf materials that are revolutionising the commercial space industry. This has made me rethink my original career trajectory, as I had not been aware of these exciting prospects.

The workshops were stimulating and exciting, and allowed the participants to form strong bonds. The best workshop of all was the rocket workshop, where NASA’s leader in Human Mars Planning, John Connolly, challenged us to design, build and launch rockets. We received points for design, height reached and safe return to earth, however an added constraint was that we include two eggs and a mobile phone within each rocket. Therefore, you had to ensure the correct functionality of the rocket in order to ensure the safety of your electronic device! The launch made the local news, and was definitely the highlight of the programme.

The participants were split into two team projects. My project was titled Disaster Management, Space Based Solutions for Developing Nations, and I served as a member of the managerial team, as well as being the leader of the presentation team. I learnt a lot about project management and the applicability of space technology within other sectors and fields.

This course was invaluable for those hoping to enter the space industry, and in particular introduced me to areas and disciplines that I hadn’t ever considered. The knowledge I have attained and the contacts I have made will allow me the opportunity to construct a path into this fascinating industry, and I am incredibly thankful to MPLS for the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) grant giving me the chance to participate.