Gaetan Kerschen: where are satellites and how do they move?

1. What is (are) your current job title(s), and what does it (do they) mean?

I am Professor in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Liège where I am also the head of the Space Structures and Systems Laboratory. My activities center around teaching, research and collaboration with industry. I teach two courses directly related to space systems, namely satellite engineering and astrodynamics. I have several research projects on aerospace structures funded, for instance, by the European Research Council, the Belgian National Science Foundation and the European Space Agency.

2. Why is your job important?

Prof. Kerschen, second from the right, and part of his OUFTI-1 team at the Liege Space Centre.

Prof. Kerschen, second from the right, and part of his OUFTI-1 team at the Liege Space Centre.

My research is focused on the dynamics of aerospace systems. There are two main facets. First, I am interested in orbital mechanics, which is about computing very effectively and accurately the orbits of satellites. This can find applications, e.g., for rendez-vous of satellites. Second, I develop new methodologies for computing the vibrations of satellites during launch and once on-orbit. The objective is to design aerospace structures that are as light as possible while ensuring their integrity.

3. What led you to that career path?

I have always been fascinated by science and engineering. I did not really hesitate when I chose to do a Master in Aerospace Engineering. When I performed my final year project, I felt that working in academia could be a very exciting and rewarding job, and I decided to realize a doctoral thesis directly after getting my degree. After my PhD, I studied abroad as a postdoctoral research at the National Technical University of Athens and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When I returned to Belgium, I applied for a professorship, which is the position I have now.

4. How would you describe your typical work day?

A typical work day is on average about 20% of teaching, 20% of administrative activities (for instance, management of my lab and writing research grants), 20% of meetings with colleagues, students or industry people and 40% of scientific activities, the majority of which is dedicated to the supervision of my researchers. There are also meetings and conferences abroad throughout the year.

5. What is the most exciting thing you ever had the chance to do?

Difficult to pick just one thing. Living abroad is a unique and truly fantastic professional and human experience. But the most exciting moment of my career is probably ahead of me. Next year, we will launch our nanosatellite OUFTI-1, which was entirely designed by engineering students. This will represent a very special moment when we will realize that we will send an object to space, 600 kilometers above our heads.

6. What advice would you give to your young self?

The only way to do great work is to love the work you do. -Steve Jobs

OUFTI-1, about to be launched in space!

OUFTI-1, about to be launched in space!

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