European Space Agency

In a sentence: "In 2015 I worked twice for ESA, first on the ExoMars mission then on GNSS Probe, a remote sensing project at the University of Leicester."

I took a year out between my MSci and my PhD to experience what real-world research was like. During this time I was fortunate enough to hold two positions for the European Space Agency, which certainly gave me insight into the world of academia: everything from international conferences (ExoMars), to unexpectedly heading the project during the PI's sudden illness (Leicester). 

 Still the most exciting thing I've ever experienced.

Still the most exciting thing I've ever experienced.

 One of the ExoMars rover prototypes zooming around.

One of the ExoMars rover prototypes zooming around.

Data analyst | ExoMars rover mission, University College London

Supervisor: Dr Pete Grindrod

In summer 2015 I assessed the hazards and scientific potential of the then-four candidate landing sites for the 2020 ExoMars rover. This involved extremely intensive analysis of HiRISE images in ArcMap contextualised with Digital Elevation Models created using SOCET SET. Across all four sites I identified hazards such as boulders down to a metre across, slopes, and aeolian ridges; as well as scientific targets such as strata, inverted channels, and accessible bedrock.

The most exciting event of my academic career then followed: I accompanied the UK team to the 3rd Landing Site Selection Meeting in ESTEC, Noordwijk, where two sites were eliminated. What a taste of space agency politics! I met scientists I greatly admired, experienced an insider's view of a space mission, and even spoke before the whole audience to address the claims of an engineer regarding the boulders.

You can learn more about choosing the ExoMars rover's landing site here.

 Lots of digging holes in fields and sticking these probes in with exhausted arms.

Lots of digging holes in fields and sticking these probes in with exhausted arms.

 Mapping groundwater from space using microwave reflectivity must be calibrated by ground-truthing on Earth.

Mapping groundwater from space using microwave reflectivity must be calibrated by ground-truthing on Earth.

FIELD assistant | GNSS PROBE | University of Leicester

Supervisors: Dr. Sarah Johnson and Prof. Heiko Baltzer

I spent the autumn of 2015 designing and executing the field campaign of a ESA-funded project to calibrate the novel technique of detecting groundwater from space. My tasks involved purchasing, installing, and operating field equipment, training and supervising other assistants in the field, and organising the English and Spanish field practices.

Unfortunately due to our PI taking ill, the international fieldwork was only completed after my contract ended, but project continues today and may one day be used to advise water-scarce regions where best to deploy their precious resources.

The results from my phase of the project were presented at the EGU General Assembly 2016 and ESA’s Living Planet Symposium in 2016, and you can find out more about GNSS Probe here.