Space pursuits: journeying into aerospace engineering

Celine Jane is graduating at the May ceremonies with a Master’s of Engineering. While concluding her time as a student at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, she will continue her work on space systems in her research position at the University’s Robinson Research Institute.

Celine Jane poses at Kelburn campus
Celine Jane outside Kelburn campus. Image Services

Celine wasn’t just interested in space because it appeared cool, although she admits it is—her inspiration for pursuing space systems and aerospace engineering stemmed from a love of intricate problem-solving.

“I enjoy doing applied maths and engineering, but space is also just really cool, everyone loves space. The industry is really growing in New Zealand, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Celine began studying a Bachelor of Engineering at the University in 2017, originally planning to do robotics.
“The courses I enjoyed more were the math-heavy ones. I was really interested in the gnarly maths, but also real-world application of such maths. I still use the more electronic and practical engineering side, because to implement any type of mathematical system on a spacecraft you need to know how to implement that with code.”

It became clear to Celine during her undergrad degree that she wanted to be involved in the space industry, and she ended up putting her Master’s on hold after being awarded a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment scholarship to intern at NASA.

“Having the opportunity to go to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab exposed me to the breadth of what is needed in space science and engineering, there were people working on things I wouldn’t have even thought about.”

The pause to further study continued when she subsequently began work at Argo Navis, an aerospace company in Auckland, where she developed code for rocket engine test rigs.

“I learnt a lot in my time at Argo Navis, which was great for teaching me the practical elements of the field. Now I have both practical and academic experience.

“One of the things I worked on was doing the control system and instrumentation for the engine test rigs, so when a rocket was fired, I did the code to control it and collect the data. Being there on the ground when its all go is very exciting. In the future I’d like to see something I have worked on be sent to space.”

This dream will soon be a reality for Celine, as her work at the University’s Robinson Research Institute involves the Hēki mission. This is testing a high-temperature superconducting magnet and its wireless power supply in space, which will ultimately be sent to the International Space Station in early 2025.

When she returned to the University for her Master’s she had a very clear idea of what she wanted to learn. One of her supervisors, Dr Christopher Hollitt, Associate Dean (Students) at the Faculty of Engineering, says that Celine was driven in gaining the knowledge she wanted.

“Her Masters work looked at how to stabilise satellites in their orbits around the earth if they have large magnets on board. It was an extremely challenging project, and Celine mastered a wide range of difficult skills,” says Dr Hollitt.

For Celine, the greatest challenge in her studies has been navigating an area with limited existing research.

“I had to figure out some algorithms that had very little research underpinning them. Coming up with solutions to problems nobody has thought about can be challenging, but I really enjoyed my time studying.”

Celine’s advice to fellow students is that passion for space transcends specific academic backgrounds. You don’t need to be an engineer or physicist; if you’re passionate about space, you can find a way to make it work.

Learn more about studying Engineering at Victoria University of Wellington.