INWED logo colour transparentIn advance of International Women in Engineering Day 2024 on Sunday 23 June, Nieves Salor Moral, a Project Manager and Technical Lead for ground segment projects at Starion, shares her engineering journey, including what motivates her, and explains some of the challenges she has had to overcome to succeed, including a lack of female role models.

When did you join the company?

I joined in May 2018. Although I’m based in Madrid, I work for Starion’s German business unit.

What does your job entail?

Nieves Salor Moral presentingTypically, I manage projects where software plays a key role in ground segment systems operations, mostly for the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) and European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC). My job involves leading the technical developments on ground segment projects and designing the software architecture for them, including Starion’s Astral ground segment solution and the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in space operations.

We have developed a platform for streamlining the development of AI applications with ESOC and other organisations to reduce the overhead on resources, configuration and data access. Currently, we are actively working with different space domains such as mission planning, flight dynamics and ground station engineers to develop several AI solutions including trend analysis, predictive maintenance, anomaly forecasting, root-cause investigation and anomaly classifications for deep space and planetary missions. All these solutions give the user greater control.

What missions have you supported?

My work is transversal, rather than being mission specific. As a result, I have worked on several ESA missions including SmallGEO, Gaia, Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS), Mars Express, Solar Orbiter and CryoSat (pictured below).

CryoSat satellite ESA 1600

This year we supported the planning of XMM-Newton by automating the processes of generating the scheduling files for short-term and long-term planning. Previously, this was performed manually by flight dynamic teams. This automation, which is already operational, includes a small AI module that selects the best wheel profile for the next revolution to avoid caging, therefore extending the mission safety.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

For me, the most satisfying elements of being an engineer are finding a solution to a complex problem, discovering new technologies and approaches, and being on a constant learning path – be that for software, operations or whatever topic I need to support.

What inspired you to pursue a role in engineering?

When I was a kid, it amazed me that when someone typed on a PC keyboard, the computer did exactly what you wanted it to do. At the time, I thought it was fairies, and I was keen to understand how I could get them to do what I wanted.

That was the seed of my curiosity. It then expanded to wanting to know how engines worked and why other things worked the way they did. In summary, early on I had a passion for understanding how and why things worked, and being able to think of something new and make it a reality.

Have you got any mentors who are women?

Sadly not. When I started working, the number of female leaders in the software domain was low, and it remains so. Therefore, women engineers must forge our own paths, making mistakes along the way. But I’m encouraged that this is beginning to change, with STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) now being promoted for girls.

How have you found it being a woman in a male-dominated industry?

I find it challenging because you are the oddity and you feel that there is a glass ceiling to break through (even if it is thin). So most of us try to compensate by overworking to fight the impostor syndrome that has been ingrained in us since we were children, even if it is not true. However, saying that, I consider myself lucky because most of the people I have worked with during my career have treated me as a professional equal.

What advice do you have for future generations of women in engineering

The most important advice I can offer would be to persevere; you can do it. Be responsible for your job and don’t be afraid to ask for help and support. Failures are part of the journey for everyone. Use your innate capability of seeing the overarching picture of the engineering situation you may be in and engineer a solution from that perspective.

What have been your career highlights so far?

From an engineering point of view, I would say when we finished part of the European Ground Systems – Common Core (EGS-CC) development for ESA. We successfully deployed it and it became a foundation stone of Starion’s Astral solution.

Then from a management perspective, although it sounds small, I really enjoy training new people and seeing them become proficient and confident when working independently.