Empowering all Women, in Space and on Earth

Observing the Earth for a Better Future: meet Ornella Bombaci, Thales Alenia Space Head of Observation Payload Engineering Department

The Earth observation has become the crucial way of empowering the scientific community, and even further, the entire society, to face the challenges of Climate change and our Planet’s health, enabling the responsible environmental decision-making.

This is the focus of Ornella Bombaci’s professional efforts: to create the bridge between the state-of-art technology and its practical application, with the aim to improve the quality of our daily lives. Ornella is Head of the Observation Payload Engineering department in the Observation and Navigation domain in Thales Alenia Space in Italy, coordinating a 40-person team that designs, develops and tests microwave instruments for Earth observation.

Her entire career at Thales Alenia Space was dedicated to science: she held various engineering and management positions in Remote Sensing, encompassing systems, ground segments and payloads. A long journey with a variety of technical and managerial challenges, but always gratifying, knowing that the efforts of her team enhance Earth monitoring and security. Ornella explains:

“If it now seems normal that we can observe our planet day and night, under any weather conditions, that’s because of the ongoing technical progress in this field, to which I was lucky enough to contribute. We design, develop and test the remote sensing systems that have completely changed the field of Earth monitoring.

Today, thanks to our state-of-the-art satellites like COSMO-SkyMed, we can help prevent disasters or at least monitor their effects almost immediately, even in remote locations, as shown by recent catastrophic earthquakes.”

Ornella also worked on space exploration programs, such as Cassini to Saturn’s moon Titan, Mars Express and ExoMars 2016. These programs gave scientists a deeper understanding of our Solar System, along with major clues to the Earth’s own history and how to protect our planet.

Another extraordinary discovery was the 20-km-wide lake of liquid water underneath solid ice in the Planum Australe region of Mars, published online by “Science” (First Release) on July 25, 2018. This discovery was based on the analysis of data from the MARSIS sounder (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding), an instrument Ornella helped design and develop in the early 2000s. By analyzing Martian history in this way, we get a foreshadowing of the possible desertification of Earth but we are also boosting the possibility of human exploration, one of the main challenges of space exploration in the next two decades. In Ornella’s words, “this was the most concrete example of my real motivation in work: Space for Life.”

Important aspect of her professional life is the work-live balance she was able to create: as a proud mother of three sons, she is their constant reminder of how it is possible to achieve your dreams through passion and commitment.

Ornella is committed to encourage young people to pursue a career in science, reminding them of 3 key concepts for a successful career:

  • Teamwork: nothing is achievable alone
  • Passion for space and technological progress
  • Work without mental barriers: cooperation and visionary innovation is the right mix.

Watch the video: https://youtu.be/fKyyIEUmuoE

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