António Rui Melro

In 2O03 mechanical engineering student António Rui Melro was approached by his tutor on his way out of an exam on machine elements and asked if he wanted to join SSETI. After the initial surprise, António said yes.

Now, two years later, 24-year-old António who is studying at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto in Portugal, anxiously awaits the launch of SSETI Express or ‘my precious’ as he calls it, alluding to Gollum’s obsession with the ring in Lord of the Rings.

What was your job on SSETI Express?

I am responsible for its structure and the configuration of its sub-systems but I first started in SSETI working on the structure of ESEO, the sister mission of SSETI Express.

What have you gained from the experience?

I have learned much about self-organisation and managerial techniques, not to mention all the technical aspects, not just in my field of work but in space science in general. Most importantly, it has paved the way for my PhD in Mechanical Engineering as this focuses on analytical and numerical modelling of damage and fracture of advanced composites, the main application for which is aircraft and aerospace structures.

SSETI offers the perfect opportunity to work on a space-related project. I have learned a lot about materials and their mechanical behaviour under dynamic loads, numerical methods for predicting structural behaviour, etc. etc. Many of these topics are not taught in classrooms and this is the only - and the best - way to learn about them.

A lasting memory will be the technical mistakes I made during the design phase. You sure learn a lot when you are doing, by yourself, something you have never done before.

How did you find working with people from different countries?

One of my hobbies is studying different cultures, their history, and how and why they have evolved the way they have. So for me this was an opportunity to jump from books and television into real ‘field work’ where I could learn to understand, and also interact with, people whose personalities are different from mine.

If we add to this working together in a project where everyone is fully focused on achieving a common goal, then maybe that explains why I have found it one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my life so far.

Is it difficult working in a team based in so many different countries?

Sometimes it can be a headache. You have to make sure you are available through email, newsgroups or the internet relay chats as much as possible, as otherwise you end up delaying or stopping the work of someone who needs information urgently in order to continue.

You end up spending a lot of time in what can be frustratingly slow meetings and discussions, because it is still quicker to speak and listen than to send and read messages. Certainly being thousands of kilometres away from where the action is can be a significant handicap.

Distributed teamwork is possible – this project proves it – but you need to schedule your time well, otherwise you’ll often end up missing the last bus home!

Best moment of working on SSETI Express?

Without question after the last run of vibration tests on the protoflight model of the satellite; it was then I knew the structure could survive launch and deliver the satellite, in one piece, into space.

Best memory?

The day Neil Melville, the Project Manager, announced the launch date: the confirmation that everybody on the project had performed well. We also knew that people outside the project, who may have been sceptical about a group of students being able to build a spacecraft, would now think: “those students can sure pull out a trick or two…”.

Did you ever think you wouldn’t make it?

Sure, I always considered it an awkward task, but at the back of my mind there was always that light at the end of the tunnel telling me we were heading in the right direction.

How will you feel when SSETI Express is launched?

Thank God, it’s gone! No, I’m joking, I will have mixed feelings. I have become used to visiting the website several times a day to look at the webcam to see what’s going on in the cleanroom. I still do it once in a while, even though I know ‘my precious’ is no longer there.

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