|David McKeown talks to Smart Futures about conducting research for the European Space Agency (ESA).
What do you do?
I’m a rocket engineer and space scientist. During my first ESA project, we looked at space telescopes. They are 20 metres long and they shake when they move, which causes a blurry picture. We worked on ways to get a clear picture even when moving. We also worked on an experimental robot arm for a Mars Rover. You have to solve problems for the atmosphere on Mars it’s difficult as things don’t weigh the same. Now we’re trying to control vibrations on launchers. When a rocket takes off, the whole rocket vibrates as it is made of very light material. If it vibrates it might go off course. We’re working on ways to control these vibrations.
Could you describe your typical day?
Our team does a lot of computer simulations. We make mathematical models and draw 3D models that represent a rocket. We can simulate an entire launch from Earth to orbit. I also lecture the Space Science and Technology Masters at University College Dublin (UCD) on the areas of vibrations and control as well as launchers.
What subjects did you take in school?
For the Leaving Cert I did physics, chemistry, maths and applied maths.
What did you do after school?
I went to UCD to study mechanical engineering. When I finished my degree, I did a PhD in the area of flight dynamics and control systems. Flight dynamics is about how things move and control systems is about making things move the way you want them to.
How did you get your current job?
After my PhD, I became a researcher in TRIL (Technology Research for Independent Living), doing healthcare research for elderly people to make their lives easier. After two years, UCD got the ESA contract so I went back to mechanical engineering and started research on vibration in spacecrafts.
What do you do in your spare time?
I run quite a few outreach events, including Science Hack Day and Artek Circle. I also run Dublin Maker. It gives anyone who tinkers with stuff in their garage the opportunity to show it to the public and explain how it works. I’ve talked at events such as Electric Picnic and TEDxUCD, and in the Science Gallery. Science is very interesting – it just needs to be communicated in the right way.
What advice would you give to someone leaving school?
Find something that you’re passionate about and it will make your life a lot more enjoyable.