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In the Spotlight

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Feb 3 2023
In the Spotlight

Anthea_Comellini

Her name of Greek origin fits her like a glove… Anthos in Greek means “flower” or “blossom” literally, and “excellence” in the figurative sense. And in mythology, Anthea was often the name of the Goddess of Spring—the season Anthea Comellini was born in Italy 30 years ago. Despite her young age, Anthea, an engineer at Thales Alenia Space, seems to have already lived several lives. You’ll be hearing more about her in the weeks ahead, as she was recently selected as a European Space Agency (ESA) reserve astronaut, one of 17 successful candidates chosen from 22,500 applicants.

Should ESA assign her to a space mission, Anthea will undergo the same training as career astronauts and could thus spend time on the International Space Station or take part in NASA’s Artemis program to send humans back to the Moon, starting in 2025.

Lunar Gateway_Artistic_view_2022

Lunar Gateway © Thales Alenia Space/Briot

Thales Alenia Space is a key industry partner on this program, contributing to the Orion capsule’s European service module and in particular building the three pressurized modules for the Gateway lunar-orbiting space station. Alongside this future Gateway, a whole new lunar economy is already taking shape, with talk of a Moon Village, lunar habitats and shelters, rovers, and landing platforms. There will also be satellite communications and navigation systems in cislunar space. Our company is playing a central role in returning humankind to the Moon, which will serve as a staging post for crewed missions to Mars.

ESA astronaut class of 2022

Anthea_Comellini

Anthea Comellini © Thales Alenia Space/Briot

ESA’s 2022 class of 17 astronauts comprises five career astronauts, 11 reserve astronauts—including Anthea—and one astronaut with a disability.

To reach this point, candidates spent nearly 18 months undergoing a series of tests in six separate stages. Applicants who got through the stage one screening process were then assessed on their background, public-speaking abilities, psychometric skills, proficiency in languages, mathematics and physics, as well as their eyesight and speed of perception. Besides their inherent technical skills, the candidates were also subjected to psychological tests to gauge their ability to handle unexpected situations, and had to demonstrate cool-headedness, pragmatism, and ability to work in an international team environment. The would-be astronauts also underwent medical and fitness tests. For example, astronauts tend to lose bone mass in space, so candidates were required to have good bone density to go through to stage four of the selection process. Their motivation and ambition were the final determining factors for the last two stages.

Career profile


Video © ESA

A graduate of Italy’s Politecnico Milano in space engineering, Anthea Comellini also holds a degree from France’s ISAE-SUPAERO aerospace engineering school. In addition, she has a Master’s degree from Paris-Saclay University in image and signal processing and advanced control techniques.

Anthea earned a PhD from ISAE-SUPAERO in autonomous navigation for space rendezvous missions, obtained in 2021 at the end of her first stint with Thales Alenia Space. As part of her PhD, she was a visiting researcher for four months with the mobile robotics and autonomous systems laboratory at Polytechnique Montréal, Canada.

After her PhD, Anthea Comellini joined the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, where she worked for two years as a spaceflight dynamics engineer, specializing in orbit determination for interplanetary space missions. Here she was involved in such major programs as BepiColombo, Gaia, Mars Express and the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) for the ExoMars program.

Since September 2022, Anthea has been working as a guidance, navigation and control (GNC) and attitude and orbit control system (AOCS) engineer in Thales Alenia Space’s research and development department in Cannes, France. She’s involved in robotic system projects to mitigate space debris, help reduce conjunction risks and bolster efforts to achieve responsible and sustainable management of space.

Anthea speaks fluent Italian, English and French, and some basic Russian. She holds a pilot license, is a consummate sportswoman, and pursues a range of artistic activities—drawing, painting, guitar and poetry—in her spare time, making her extremely talented and versatile.

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Anthea Comellini © Thales Alenia Space/Briot

All of this goes to show that Thales Alenia Space is a fertile breeding ground for astronauts, since we also had the pleasure of hosting a certain Thomas Pesquet for his final-year internship in 2001!

Bravo to Anthea for her many accomplishments. She’s the pride of her colleagues at Thales Alenia Space.