The nanosatellite launcher

Lola, as a child, wanted to be an astronaut. Today, at 31 years old, she looks into space every day: she puts nanosatellites into orbit and then controls them, together with her team. She designs the best trajectory for them and ensures that they do not collide with the abundant material that floats, space debris included.

This Tarragona native, who studied at Mare Nostrum and Lestonac, is the operations manager at Astrocast, a start up from Lausanne (Switzerland), with around 80 employees. «I wanted to look for a job related to space. At Astrocast they had just gotten a round of financing. And I sent the curriculum”, she says, passionate about mathematics and physics since she was very young.

The young woman came from studying aeronautical engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. She also worked at Airbus. She even took part in a project to design a proposed Hyperloop, the futuristic supersonic train dreamed up by Elon Musk. She, along with other colleagues, took up the global appeal to science made by the tycoon and outlined a prototype of this transport that must reach 1,200 km/h.

restless and ambitious

All his steps have been aimed at getting closer to space, since his parents saw his concern when he was only ten years old. Visits to CosmoCaixa or summer courses at the Roquetes observatory shaped her. “We saw that she had the capacity of her and she liked that world, and in a way we encouraged it. She was interested in NASA, the satellites », explains Carmen Gilabert, her mother. «I think she attracts me the desire to know more about space, the attraction of the unknown and the interest in knowing more. We still know little about him and that fascinates me”, says the engineer.

Lola is restless, noble and ambitious. She has an innate character –perhaps inherited from her father, also an engineer–, to lead groups and do so almost without being aware of it. Not surprisingly, she learned so fast in class that the teachers used to use her as a support for her. “Students sometimes find it easier to ask a classmate than the teacher. Well, she did that work », says her mother.

Lola is where she wants to be, with a team in control and a frenetic pace of learning. “I am very happy, here everything evolves quickly. It is what they call the 'new space' and progress is constant », she says. Currently the company has 12 satellites in orbit, it is going to launch another eight and the aspiration is to reach 80 operating simultaneously in the skies.

Lola analyzes the best orbits to make the most efficient constellation design, but her work usually starts earlier. "We validate the satellites before sending them into space, we check that they are operationally valid," she says.

“I am attracted to space by the unknown that it is. We still know little about him and that is what fascinates me to learn more »

It is in that preview where the moments of greatest tension and gratification are. “The most exciting and the most satisfying moment is when the launch has just happened, you have that first contact and you see that everything is fine, everyone can breathe easy. In the following days you try to put the satellite in nominal mode, deploy the solar panels, stabilize it. That is the first days or the first week. Knowing that all your satellites are well is comforting », she relates.

Then there is the follow-up and monitoring, the control of each of those contraptions that are no bigger than a shoebox and that can cost up to 250,000 euros. “Suddenly we see that there may be a possible collision. Then you have to calculate and prepare the maneuvers to avoid it. There can always be unforeseen events. Every week we can receive an alert but most are low probability and nothing needs to be done. On other occasions you do have to maneuver », she reels, already used to living in that demanding rhythm.

“It is true that there is pressure, but in the end if something happens it will never be the responsibility of just one person. One of the virtues that you have to have is to react quickly, to have the ability to concentrate, to get together to work and solve it, "says the young woman.

Lola likes to have everything under control: from profiling the operation of the nanosatellite to protecting its impeccable journey, including accommodating the end of its life, something that has not yet arrived in any of the vehicles that are dancing up there.

So that containers are not lost

The success of endless communications on the earth's surface depends on his expertise and that of his colleagues: that ship containers do not get lost (a fairly common problem in the world), that certain animals can be located through tracking or sensor farming to work properly. They are basic applications for the expansion of the so-called internet of things. "You see that the actions you take have an impact," she confesses, satisfied with what has been achieved: "I did not imagine at this age being in this position."

Everything is a mixture of work and talent, and also resignations. «There are many hours of dedication, with very marked peaks of work to which you have to adapt. You reduce your social life. Mountains of discipline to complement her high intellectual level, even if she doesn't recognize it, and her attachment to culture. She is a good reader and covers everything from astronomy to novels or history and of course science fiction.

Lola has not managed to be an astronaut, but she is close to them.

He is from Tarragona. He's 31 years old. He lives in Switzerland but before he has done it in Madrid or Denmark. He holds the position Head of Mission Operations Engineering of the Swiss company Astrocast. He previously worked in the production of aircraft for Airbus and in the development of a prototype of the Hyperloop supersonic train.

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