In the Spotlight

Meet Maria Lopez-Alvarez

FLEX satellite mechanical and thermal architect

Meet Maria Lopez-Alvarez

FLEX satellite mechanical and thermal architect

    Tell us about your job…

    My work as a mechanical and thermal architect (MTA) involves designing mechanical and thermal systems and making sure they perform and interface with other spacecraft subsystems as required, for the entire service life of the satellite.

    Right now, I’m working as MTA for FLEX, an Earth observation satellite for ESA, currently being integrated and tested by Thales Alenia Space in the UK. FLEX will improve our understanding of how carbon moves between plants and the atmosphere and how photosynthesis affects the carbon and water cycles. It’s exciting to be part of such an important science mission, which will help drive positive environmental changes and protect life on our planet.

    FLEX is a compact satellite carrying a high-resolution optical spectrometer being developed at the very limits of this technology. The mission will analyze vegetation health on a global scale.

    At this stage of the project, my job is mainly to provide instructions and specify constraints for the team of engineers physically integrating and testing the hardware and help resolve any anomalies. To do this efficiently, we work closely as a multidisciplinary team, constantly sharing information and discussing the best solutions for the challenges we encounter.


    © ESA/Thales Alenia Space_E.Briot

    In the next few months, our focus will be on preparing and executing the mechanical and thermal testing phase, when we’ll physically shake, heat and cool the satellite to simulate the conditions of launch and operations in space. We’ll also check everything works and ensure there’s no damage to the hardware. Finally, there’s preparation and launch, when my priority as MTA will be to oversee safe transportation to the launch site and ensure the satellite is launched in the required mechanical and thermal flight configuration, so it survives liftoff and can complete its mission.

    As an MTA, you have to find the right balance between technical specialization and a high-level understanding of the satellite and its subsystems. It requires individual work and teamwork. I’d recommend it to anyone keen to work in a technical field.

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

    The constant learning is rewarding. And I enjoy challenges and devising ways to solve them. I’m really proud of what we’re achieving every day with the FLEX satellite. I’m in awe of the technical work we’ve performed so far and the team we’ve built. They’re extremely knowledgeable and passionate, with people of many nationalities working together for this project and through some challenging conditions.

    Womensday: Maria Lopez-Alvarez

    © Thales Alenia Space

    Which part of your career have you enjoyed the most?

    Of course, the FLEX project. The last few years on this project have been a real highlight in my career. And the best is yet to come!

    What three qualities are most important in your job?

    Critical thinking, forward thinking and interpersonal communication.