Divya Jindal is a Spacecraft Systems and Orbits Engineer working in the Spacecraft Operations and Orbit Dynamics divisions of Optus Satellite. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering and Commerce from UNSW and graduated with First Class Honours in 2016.

That is an incredible job title. What kind of activities do you do in the day-to-day?

I help to operate and maintain seven satellites in geostationary orbit. This includes Optus’ fleet of five satellites, plus two satellites for the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Once you launch satellites into space, they don’t stay in their desired position forever, due to small forces such as the Sun or Jupiter’s gravity, so one of my jobs is to plan thruster firings to maintain the satellite’s orbit.

I also do a lot of coding to develop analysis tools and procedures that can be used to help automate processes and increase operational safety. Another part is to respond to any alarms that might arise on the satellite.

Why are satellites important, how do they help us down on Earth?

Satellites are useful for many things such as GPS and weather prediction, but the ones I’m involved in operating are used primarily for communications. For example, the Optus satellites facilitate Foxtel on your TV if you have an antenna dish in your backyard, and the NBN satellites help provide internet coverage in rural Australia.

What triggered your interest in aerospace engineering?

I’ve always loved maths and physics, and understanding how things work. I’ve also always had a passion for space. When I saw Aerospace Engineering in the UNSW brochure, I was like, “That sounds like the perfect degree for me!”

How can you see your career developing in the future?

I’m in the process of undergoing satellite certification training right now, which means I’ll be able to be one of the engineering analysts on call for our satellites outside of business hours if there was a situation requiring immediate response. In the long-term, I’m keen to learn as much as possible and then move into a more specialised area of satellite operations, depending on where my interests take me.

Do you have any space travel aspirations?

I’m not sure if I’d be keen for a one-way mission to Mars, but I’m certainly keen to see what happens with Elon Musk’s commercial space travel ventures. It would be amazing to experience space, even just a suborbital flight or to visit the Moon for a few days.

What innovations in your industry are the most exciting?

CubeSats (small satellites with relatively cheap launch costs) are a great opportunity for universities and other organisations to get a foothold in space research. The new Australian Space Agency is also a great boost for the industry in this country.

Other exciting innovations include an emergence of high throughput digitally reprogrammable satellites, and advances in refuelling technologies that promise to greatly expand the lifespan of satellites. This is because on-board fuel is the limiting factor for the lifespan of a satellite – assuming no other life-critical component/s on board the satellite fail first.

What’s your fondest memory from your time at UNSW?

I have so many. All those late night assignment and study sessions in the library and mechanical labs were painful at the time, but also rewarding to do with a group of mates. I miss eating hot chips and falafels from Yummba at The Terraces. I also enjoyed being part of events on campus, including the Women in Engineering events, and meeting new people.