Hannah Currivan | Smart Futures

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Hannah Currivan
Hannah Currivan is a Space Systems/Reliability Engineer with a BSc in physics with energy and environment from TUD and a MSc in space science and technology from UCD. Currently she works on the Ariane 6 VIKI (Independent Video Kit) creating acceptance tests and the reliability model of the system, including environmental testing. Other projects she is working on are the reliability of ESA PLATO PLIU (PayLoad Interface Unit), including radiation modeling. She has also built interfaces and databases, using her skills in code.  
Job title
Space Systems/Reliability Engineer
Réaltra Space Systems Engineering.

Hi! My name is Hannah Currivan and I am a Space Systems/Reliability Engineer at Réaltra Space Systems Engineering.

I work on the Ariane 6 VIKI (Independent Video Kit) creating acceptance tests and the reliability model of the system, including environmental testing. Other projects I am working on is the reliability of ESA PLATO PLIU (PayLoad Interface Unit), including radiation modeling. I have also built interfaces and databases, using my skills in code.  

When I have time I tweet about my day https://twitter.com/astrohmfc , so you can have an insight of what it is like to be in the Irish Space Industry.

I carried out my BSc in physics with energy and environment at Technological University of Dublin, and I carried out my MSc in space science and technology at University College Dublin.

Besides my career I also enjoy cycling and attending the gym, and travelling the world, and visiting historic space sites, and spending time with family and friends.

When I was in secondary school, I was a senior prefect (head girl), I was also a member of a Meitheal Team, which is a team of 5th year students that helped first year students to settle into secondary school. I was also a member of the Law team where we would take part at national levels mock trial competitions in Ireland and international levels in New York. All the skills I learned from secondary school from being a good leader, being confident, and trusting your ability to carry out your work to a high standard, has helped me throughout my career. The subjects I studied for the Leaving Certificate, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, and Applied Maths on top of the core subjects.


Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?

I didn’t really have an opinion of STEM when I was a teenager, I just always remembered how much I enjoyed asking questions about the world, and finding out ways to experiment and come up with my own conclusions, which I would then compare with their results. I don’t think I ever heard the term STEM when I was a teenager, I first heard of it when I was at Technological University of Dublin. 


In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about STEM careers?

I remember hearing that you would have to work alone in the lab all day with no other human interaction, but this is a big lie! Most of my day as a Space Systems/Reliability Engineer can start with answering emails from Ariane Rocket Group, and the European Space Agency about documentation and upcoming conference calls. Once your emails are answered you start working with your fellow engineers to carry out testing for cameras for the Ariane 6 rocket, or carry out mathematical model for reliability of the European Space Agency PLATO  (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations) mission, carrying out environmental tests, launch test (through vibration). You do so much teamwork in the space industry not only with the company you work in but also other space companies from across the world.


Do you believe that there is enough being done to encourage girls and minorities to study STEM and pursue STEM careers?

I think loads have been done to encourage children into science, but I do find that kids who have the natural curiosity (not talking about the Mars Rover 🙂 ) to ask questions usually end up in science. I do try my best to carry out outreach to meet with the public to tell them about the Irish Space Industry and Ireland’s amazing involvement, and hopefully inspire some people to join.


Describe an interesting day in your current position.

A day as a Space Systems/Reliability Engineer is very varied as you can be testing parts and putting your input into a design one minute, or calculating mathematical models for the reliability of the system, to building interfaces to make your work more efficient, to then travelling to test facilities for vibration and vacuum testing. Then same days are you answering emails and attending conference calls from around the world, and carrying out documentation.


What do you love about your current role?

I really love the variety of skills I use each day, from team work, communications with European partners, physics to understand the fundamentals behind my work and mathematical models, to being an experimenter by testing the space system in environmental conditions and launch conditions.


What has been the most surprising element of your job?

I know before entering the space industry that there is lots of documentation to be done but I was still surprised by the number of documents there truly where. These documents take skills in technical writing, as the depth of these documents need to be comprehensive and thorough.


What has been your most exciting career moment to date?

I have been fortunate to take part in several internships, in the area of physics education, plasma physics at TUD, particle physics at the University of Glasgow, to work with CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) detectors. I then got the opportunity to work in the area of solar physics at Trinity College Dublin where I had the opportunity to work on I-LOFAR (Irish Low Frequency Array) radio telescope on the grounds of Birr Castle, in Birr Co.Offaly, which I then got to operate I-LOFAR for my thesis, where I observed a supernova remnant (Cas A) which is 11,000 light years away, Radio Galaxy (Cygnus A) which is 3200 light years away, and a Black Hole (Cygnus X-3) which is 3200 light years away. Then the summer after I-LOFAR I joined the Irish Space Industry by working with Innalabs on Gyroscopes!!!!

During September 2018 I had the opportunity to attend the European Space Agency in Belgium where I had Spacecraft Operations Training, which was AMAZING!!!! Then during my masters in teams we built a Tupper Sat, which is a lunchbox with an experiment on board, which was launched using a weather balloon!!!! The experiment we had on board is to look at carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere from 18km to 38km altitude.

I find that you can make your career as exciting as you want by working hard and asking for experience within your field.  All of which contributed to me being in the Irish Space Industry.


Do you get to work with any new technologies?

Yes and no, see in the space industry we use a lot of old technology as it is more reliable, but we are also working on new technology to make them as reliable in the most cost effective way so space missions are not as expensive!!!


Do you ever get to travel abroad for work?

Yes we get to travel to different facilities to carry out testing of your products, such as for vibration testing, and environmental testing.


What kind of other experts do you work with on a day to day basis?

I work with Quality Assurance Engineer, Senior Systems Engineer, Software Engineer, Engineering Manager, Project Manager, and our Chief Technology Officer. Some days we have ESA and OHB and Ariane Group over in our offices.


Is your current job, and the work of the wider team, making a difference in the world?

We do make a difference from our products!!! For example VIKI which is the video kit for the Ariane 6 rocket will stream video of the launch of every Ariane 6 rocket, which will inspire so many people to be part of the space industry around the world!!! With our PLATO contribution we will help ESA and scientists around the world to discover new planets around other stars, and hopefully a habitual planet!!!


Do you feel that you fit the stereotypical description of a person in your role?

I don’t really know what would be a stereotypical person in my role really as we are all so different, but one thing is for certain we are all very passionate about our jobs and the Irish Space Industry.


If a young person told you that they would like to get into your role, what advice would you give them?

I would tell them to start getting involved in the industry young, such as being a part of the following:

  • BT Young Scientist
  • SciFest
  • ESB Blast
  • Coolest Projects
  • CoderDojo
  • CanSat 

Even take up Transition Year Opportunities within universities and companies by just finding their contact details and drop them an email saying you are looking for work experience in this field of  study.

You can also ask a university department if you can shadow a student to get a sense of what it is like to attend third level education. I would also attend university open days even if you are not in 6th year, just so you can see what course best suits you.

A background for the space industry in Physics, Mathematics, Engineering, and Computer science is where you will end up in the same role as myself, but the truth is the space industry is made up of Accountants, Solicitors, Human Resources, Administration, Project Managers, Sales executives, Finance etc, the list can go on and on. Just because you are not in the STEM field does not mean you can not be in the space industry, us scientists and engineers rely on the people who work in these positions to make our lives run smoother in the industry. 


What do you want to see change in the industry in the next 10 years?

I want to see Ireland as one of the most amazing space industries to work with in the world and for the investment by the government to make Ireland’s Space Agency come true!!!


What are your priorities for the year ahead in your role?

Aim for more senior roles to have a bigger say in the Irish Space Industry and with the European Space Agency. I really enjoy my work as a Space Systems/Reliability Engineer and I hope to grow with these roles. 


Do you feel secure in the fact that you can earn a living from a career in Stem?

Yes I feel very secure!!! The space industry in Ireland is young and you can grow in your career fast!!!


Name one thing on your bucket list?

Attend a rocket launch!!!!!  I also want to go on Zero G, which is also called the vomit comet where you get to experience weightlessness.


What television series are you currently watching?

Currently finished watching season 2 of “The Orville” on FOX with my boyfriend and we love it!!! We are really excited for season 3 on Hulu.


What living person do you most admire, and why? 

I admire my mum and dad as they always encouraged and supported me through my adventures. I also admire my boyfriend as he too is a Space Systems Engineer and is amazing at building and CAD.  I admire my co workers as they too make Réaltra an amazing team.

I remember hearing that you would have to work alone in the lab all day with no other human interaction, but this is a big lie!