Meet Sumita Pommerol, a Swiss engineer who loves Earth observation and space exploration

Could you please explain your job?

I’m an IVVQ engineer, meaning that I’m in charge of the integration, verification, validation and qualification of instruments, components and subassemblies used on Earth observation and space exploration missions. I joined Thales Alenia Space’s facility in Zurich in 2012, when it was still Ruag Space. When I was a kid, I loved astronomy. So it’s only natural that I would go into science and technology. Working in the space sector then seemed the logical next step.

What are you most proud of in your day-to-day activity?

I’ve worked on a number of fascinating programs, including BepiColombo, designed to explore Mercury, Sentinel-4, with a suite of two instruments that will also be used on the two sounding satellites in the Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) family. These instruments are designed to analyze traces of gas and aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere. At Thales Alenia Space in Switzerland, we supply electronic equipment for the instruments on Sentinel-4 (six in all, three per mission).

 

MTG is the new generation of weather satellites, comprising six satellites in all: four imaging satellites and two atmospheric sounders. Working on behalf of ESA and Eumetsat, Thales Alenia Space is in charge of this program, which will considerably enhance the capabilities of European meteorology from geostationary orbit. 

 

Our company is also a major partner on the European Union’s Copernicus program. For instance, we are developing several series of Sentinel satellites and instruments for ESA. We really take this program to heart, because it’s designed to enhance environmental monitoring for the benefit of everybody in Europe and all over the world. The Sentinels will always keep a benevolent watch over our planet. 

 

I’m also working on the technologies used in cameras carried by the ExoMars rover, and I’m delighted to be contributing to such an amazing program. It’s very moving to know that rover technologies “Made in Switzerland” will make a 500 million kilometer trip before they land on Mars. When I was young, if you had told me I’d be working on a space exploration project like this, I wouldn’t have believed you! I must admit that I’m very proud to be working for a company that’s involved in a mission to discover traces of past life on Mars. Beyond the scientific aspects, already very exciting, we’re tackling a very existential issue: is there life on other planets? Are we alone in the Universe? 

 

I’m also happy to be working for a company that’s a partner in some of the most fantastic journeys to explore our Solar System. Just imagine, Thales Alenia Space has participated in the exploration of Saturn-Titan (Cassini-Huygens), Mars (ExoMars), comets (Rosetta-Philae), exoplanets (CHEOPS), Mercury (BepiColombo), the Sun (Solar Orbiter) and much more. In the near future, Europe may also travel to the Moon. We are capitalizing on the expertise acquired in terms of orbital infrastructures (40% of the ISS is built by Thales Alenia Space) and space transport system to design new technologies that will help us explore our neighboring planets and even deep space.

What aspects of your career have you enjoyed the most?

 

Well, I took a selfie with the camera from the ExoMars rover… (laughs)

In 3 words, what are the qualities required in your profession?

Flexibility, the ability to communicate (teamwork) and affinity for technical work.

 

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