The aeronautical engineer has found her place at a company she sees as pushing a lot of boundaries
Dr. Milca Coelho hails from the tiny Portuguese island of Madeira, but her education and early career has her poised to greatly expand her horizons as part of the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) team at E-Space. Having gained her PhD in aeronautical engineering from the University of Beira Interior in the fall of 2022, she’s now living in the university town of Covilhã near the Spanish border in Portugal.
And while she may be a bit nomadic geographically (she plans to move to Toulouse, France this year as part of the E-Space team there), her focus is firmly fixed on satellites.
Before joining E-Space a year ago, Coelho was working in the UK at Satellite Applications Catapult — a technology and research organization that enables non-satellite technology companies to create and commercialize innovative concepts and products into the satellite industry. There, she met Alessandro Modigliana, now lead systems architect at E-Space, who later encouraged her to join the company.
“I did my PhD in nonlinear adaptive filtering applied to radar tracking of aerospace vehicles where I studied, among many others, the low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite case, so I wanted to find a company where I could apply what I was doing but also a company that pushes the boundaries of what we think is normal or possible,” she says. “That’s fascinating to me, and E-Space really caught my attention not just because of the technical innovation but the timeline. We’re doing things in months that typically take satellite companies years to accomplish.”
In her work with the GNC team, Coelho is working on the complex calculations to propagate and predict orbits and ground passes for the E-Space constellation as well as the constellation management algorithms.
She explains, “We are launching multiple satellites from the same rocket and adjusting their orbits in the most optimal way.”
Although the altitudes are quite different, she says the aeronautical work she did while working on her PhD has helped inform what she’s doing now in space.
“It’s a fun problem to adapt those similar algorithms for our new concept in space,” she says, adding that the imperative to get it right on the ground adds another level of challenge.
“It’s not like a car with an issue you can park and call a mechanic to come solve it,” she says. “This is totally different; we need to do it right from the beginning to the end. It’s an intriguing challenge and one of the many reasons why I love the space sector.”
Using simulations to map out how the E-Space constellations will behave in space is something that occupies much of her time, and it’s what drives her along with a team she says is pretty special.
“E-Space is hiring a lot of outstanding people with tremendous talents,” she says. “I’m really lucky to be working with such smart people. It’s exciting to be solve difficult challenges, while having an opportunity to learn so much from your teammates.”