Interviews Start-up stories

Irina Rammos on Space Tech & Entrepreneurship “To understand the changes in climate and develop mitigation strategies space plays a key role”

Irina Rammos
Application Manager and Data Scientist at SkyfloX

You are working at SkyfloX, one of the spin-off start-ups coming from the ESA. What is SkyfloX doing? Where is the idea coming from?

SkyfloX is developing the ORCA concept, an ESA patented concept that originated in ESA, which proposes to use Commercial Aircraft as a ‘Platform’ to carry sensors mounted on the aircraft. ORCA stands for Optical and Radio Frequency Constellation on Aircraft, and by mounting sensors on airliner’s aircraft, we can provide various Earth observation and Telecommunication services. Due to the vast number of commercial flights the platform can provide multiple daily revisits and has great coverage potential. Also, since ORCA payloads are accessible, the payloads can be accessed for maintenance and upgrades. Adding to this there are no launch and platform operational costs involved, thus making ORCA a sustainable solution by using existing infrastructure. In essence SkyfloX is developing a ‘missing layer’ of earth observation, alongside space satellites, high altitude platforms and drones, enriching the current data received from remote sensing.

Skyflox is part of the aviation and earth observation data industry. What are the main challenges for a start-up to start selling a new product within a new market? How did you test your market fit within this high specific industry?
It is a challenge to achieve a product-market-fit in any start-up, including ours. Given the extent of capital expenditures required to achieve our first pilot products, although they are very low as compared to other space-based solutions, further enhances this challenge. Nevertheless, from day one we involve various end-users, including some of the largest geospatial data end-users in the world, to understand their requirements and arrive at a product that fits those requirements well.

You are a geologist and data scientist. What is your role in the company? What are the success stories you are most proud of while working at SkyfloX?
Due to the startup nature of SkyfloX, my role in SkyfloX includes multiple tasks, both technical, financial (financial administration) and managerial (management support, proposal preparations). My main role is to perform coverage simulations for the various ORCA applications, taking into account the applications’ requirements. To do this I set up a code that ingests flight data from multiple sources that processes the data and performs statistical analyses. These coverage simulations can then help us decide which applications are of most interest, how many airplanes are needed as a minimum over specific areas and how many times these areas are revisited.

Additionally, I look at new applications that could benefit from our platform, collect their requirements and evaluate their potential. I am most proud of this simulations code, not only because it is my first major programming exercise but also since its results have been pivotal for the development of the business plan and the persuasion of both the aviation and space worlds.

What is your own story, how did you start working on space technology projects?

From a young age I was fairly certain I wanted to do my studies in Earth sciences, as my interests were in nature conservation and sustainability. Additionally, my father also worked in the space domain, so that I have been early in contact with this fascinating world. During my university years at Utrecht University, even though my major focus was on marine sedimentology, my interest in space was triggered with courses in planetary geology, and projects on meteorites and lunar/martian habitation discussions.

Right after my Master’s degree I also worked on a space project as a member of the international remote support team (as a geologist) for the Euro-Moon-Mars mission at the MDRS (Mars Desert Research Station in Utah). During that time my experiences where mostly in the laboratory, analyzing the rocks and sediments retrieved from that Utah mission. My first job as a pipeline engineer was not so much space related, but it did give me insight into different pipeline monitoring techniques, amongst which also space-based remote sensing. After this experience I decided to turn entirely to learning a programming language and when the opportunity came from SkyfloX I used this new skill to combine space technologies in ‘earthly’ applications by developing ORCA for Earth Observation remote sensing.

How do you see the past and the future of the space tech? How can this depth technology have impact in our daily lives?
Space tech is very much the forerunner of technology used in daily life. Already space tech has been incorporated into our lives for example through GPS, Satellite TV or meteorological observations from EO satellites. I believe the current challenges in daily life such as sustainability, connectivity and especially the effects of climate change will very much define the upcoming space technology. To understand the changes in climate and develop mitigation strategies space plays a key role. The technology and data from such space ventures will in the long run become part of our lives, think of traffic control, atmospheric pollution apps on our phone, smart home apps, and smart cities development planning.

What does innovation mean for you regarding the space tech industry? Is it more on business model, user applications, down-to- earth applications, society impact?
In my view, any innovation, should eventually be adaptable to use for multiple applications and for a wider public, and to solve to a certain degree an existing problem. GPS navigational technology for example fits this description perfectly. The ORCA concept, once realized and fully deployed, will also do exactly that, opening up new markets and services by using our data.

How do your mornings look like?

My mornings are fast, I prefer to sleep out and spend only half an hour to get prepared and eat before I’m off to work.

What are you doing during your spare time and your weekends?
I have several hobbies, including playing the mandolin in an orchestra and playing beach-volleyball. If I have enough spare time, I try to learn new things through online courses.

Books recommended by Irina Rammos:

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