Space is arguably both finite and infinite while the universe is expanding, and this evokes ambition, excitement and puzzlement in humans. Out of which space technology, designed for space exploration, is born. Thus, it is even more interesting to learn the life stories of people behind innovation and technological development.
In this series of articles, we are introducing our colleagues behind ReOrbit technology. What brought them to the industry, their journeys towards humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier, lessons learnt and things they’d create if there were no technological limitations.
Meet Esteban Sferco, Spacecraft Engineer at ReOrbit, whose 18 year long career in space taught him the beauty of the first contact with a satellite in orbit, the importance of navigating different communication styles at work and the crucial lesson of patience and perseverance, for he is a believer good results are never achieved on the first try.
Why did you choose space
As a child, I was captivated by space: I read a lot of sci-fi books and watched space movies; although my career path in space wasn’t linear. In my last year of high school, we visited a nuclear power plant, and I was completely struck with the tandem of science and environmental consideration put into it. It turned out to be such an impressive trip for me, that I decided to study nuclear engineering in a well-known university in Argentina.
However, I didn't just forget about space: it was just that nuclear was meant to become a good base to tackle complex engineering issues. So, it didn’t come as a complete surprise for my family that the first job I chose to do after completing my bachelors was connected to space sensors and attitude control for satellites. And a couple years forward, I completed my master's degree in Arizona, majoring in space engineering.
You started your career as
After masters graduation, I worked for nuclear safety and reactor control for six years, and only after that I returned to space. All in all, I have been working in the space industry for about 18 years. In 2021, Ignacio Chechile, a former colleague of mine, reached out and told me about this exciting new startup, ReOrbit. I liked the idea and decided to join the team. Two years later, I'm confident to say that it was a great decision!
Your most memorable memory so far
One very bright memory that comes to my mind is working on a GEO satellite mission. Specifically, joining the engineering support team during the launch and early orbit phase, up until in-orbit delivery. For that to happen, we worked intensively in shifts for weeks. That said, it was a dream experience, straight from sci-fi movies that I used to like so much as a kid. Seeing the satellite in space doing what it was supposed to do was an unparalleled feeling of hard work paying off. It is also that moment when you have your first contact with the satellite in orbit (initially, all screens are blank, and there is no data received; but it all changes the next moment, when the screens light up with signals from the satellite) which almost feels as if you see your technological baby coming to life – and I am saying that thinking of the birth of my son as my most precious memory ever.
Your most valuable lesson so far
If you want to get a specific result, you need to try a lot of times and do certain procedures over and over again. If something goes wrong, do not give up but correct what was wrong and try again. I have never seen people getting things right on their first try; repetition is key. I am even tempted to say, if something goes wrong, this is a sign you are on the right track.
What nobody prepared you for
I think one thing that my university education lacked was human psychology or people skills. Engineering involves a lot of interactions with people that require soft skills and ability to navigate different communication styles. Big teams should be working towards the same goal, and that alone requires a lot of fine-tuning and careful monitoring. Plus, it doesn’t matter how wonderful your ideas are or even if everyone is on board with them, in case you are unable to communicate them clearly.
The one thing that makes you smile
Watching an airplane take off and land always amazes and fascinates me. When I received my glider pilot license, I couldn’t stop watching those elegant gliders coming in softly and meeting the ground as if in a dream. What a scientific wonder it is! And, to me, it feels like magic every time.
Imagine there are no technological limitations, what do you wish you could design/create in the space sector
Well, without technological limitations, engineering wouldn’t exist – simply because engineering is all about the limits you have in reality which you try to work your ways around.
So, in an expanded scene (with less technological limitations, but still with a few in place), I would like to help humans to work or maybe even settle in space for long-term missions, far away from Earth. Anything that could support these pursuits – communications, transportation, power plants – would be very interesting and rewarding to work with.