28 Jun 2024

ESA Φ-Lab Internship a launchpad for Nermine’s groundbreaking research career

28 Jun 2024

Nermine Hendy was thrilled to be one of the two SmartSat PhD students selected to work on pioneering satellite research at the European Space Agency’s Φ-Lab earlier this year.

Nermine, who is a PhD student at RMIT University, spent three months at the Earth Observation innovation lab in Italy working with internationally renowned researchers on her project on Interference Modelling, Detection, and Mitigation for Improving Spaceborne SAR Performance.

The project focuses on developing advanced techniques for handling Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data. The research involves creating sophisticated models to detect interference patterns and applying novel algorithms to reduce their impact on SAR data. By developing these innovative techniques, Nermine’s work aims to significantly enhance the quality of SAR data, which is vital for applications such as earth observation, disaster management, and environmental monitoring.

Since returning to home, Nermine has been reflecting on her time at one of the world’s leading research centres, and the impact the experience has had on her research, her career, and her personal and professional development.

Q. What impact do you hope your SmartSat research project will have in the future?
The impact of my research on the space industry is profound, as it contributes to the improvement of satellite operations and data analytics. For the Australian space sector, these advancements support national initiatives in space technology, promote the growth of local space capabilities, and position Australia as a key player in the global space industry. My work addresses current challenges and paves the way for future innovations in remote sensing and satellite technology, ultimately contributing to a safer and more informed world.

Q. What did it mean to you to be selected for this internship at the European Space Agency’s Φ-Lab?
Being selected for the internship at the European Space Agency’s Φ-Lab was a significant milestone in my academic and professional journey. It represented a recognition of my hard work and potential, as well as a unique opportunity to immerse myself in a world-renowned research environment.

This experience also validated that my research was heading in the right direction and gave me the confidence to push the boundaries of what I thought was possible in the field of SAR. Working at the forefront of space technology and innovation, I had the privilege of collaborating with some of the brightest minds in the field. The insights I gained into cutting-edge research and development in spaceborne technologies were invaluable. This internship not only enriched my technical expertise but also inspired me to contribute more meaningfully to the space industry and the Australian space sector.

Nermine Hendy (second from left) with fellow researchers at ESA’s Φ-Lab during a visit from SmartSat Chief Research Officer, Dr Carl Seubert (third from right).

Q. How did your time at ESA impact your research?
My experience at the Φ-Lab greatly influenced my research, immersing me in state-of-the-art technologies and pioneering methods. The exposure to these advanced resources and the guidance of experts in machine learning and foundational models enriched my understanding and expanded my skill set. This invaluable learning environment allowed me to explore diverse strategies for addressing the RFI issue, ultimately enhancing my research capabilities and broadening my problem-solving toolkit to tackle the RFI problem.

Q. What did you hope to achieve during your internship before you left, and did you achieve it?
My goals for the Φ-Lab internship included enhancing my knowledge of SAR and RFI detection and mitigation techniques, gaining practical experience with innovative machine learning algorithms, and learning from the seasoned experts at the lab. I also aimed to contribute to projects beneficial to both SmartSat and ESA while establishing valuable professional relationships.

Looking back, I am thrilled with the outcomes. The internship offered deep dives into advanced SAR and RFI technologies, enabling me to develop and fine-tune new models and algorithms. The Φ-Lab team’s expertise significantly enriched my problem-solving capabilities, and our regular interactions sparked creative and unconventional solutions. Additionally, I broadened my understanding of satellite applications and honed my communication skills. The experience not only met but surpassed my initial expectations, advancing my research and professional growth considerably.

Q. What did you learn during your time at ESA’s Φ-Lab?
During my time at ESA’s Φ-Lab, I gained substantial technical and professional knowledge. Working closely with various teams, particularly the RFI team, gave me hands-on experience with SAR data handling and satellite data fusion, introducing me to innovative techniques and applications. Engaging in regular progress discussions allowed me to think creatively and develop unconventional solutions, significantly enhancing my problem-solving abilities, programming skills, and understanding of real-world satellite technology applications. The experience deepened my comprehension of SAR RFI mitigation complexities and inspired me to set more ambitious goals for my future research.

Q. What was the best thing about your time at ESA’s Φ-Lab?
The best part of my time at ESA’s Φ-Lab was the motivating and encouraging work environment. The structured routine and strict deadlines motivated me to maximize productivity, significantly enhancing both my professional and personal growth.

Q. What do you think Australia’s burgeoning space industry could learn from the European Space Sector?
Australia’s burgeoning space industry could learn a great deal from the established European Space Sector. Key lessons include the importance of collaborative frameworks, advanced research and development, and supportive regulatory policies. Europe’s emphasis on sustainable space practices and public engagement can also guide Australia in building a robust space industry.

Additionally, exchanging experts between Australia and ESA will facilitate knowledge transfer, drive innovation, and enhance technical capabilities. ESA possesses a wealth of professional expertise in various fields, and collaborating with them can lead to joint research projects, shared resources, and the development of cutting-edge technologies.

Q. Who were some of your mentors during your time at ESA’s Φ-Lab and what did you learn from them?
My key mentor at Φ-Lab was Nicolas Longépé. His expertise in SAR and RFI provided invaluable insights into advanced signal processing and machine learning techniques. Nicolas encouraged teamwork and had great confidence in my work, which was highly motivating. Regular progress meetings helped us stay on track and fostered continuous improvement. From Nicolas, I learned to effectively approach complex problems and develop innovative solutions for RFI detection and mitigation, significantly enhancing my technical skills and professional growth.

Q. What do you hope will be the outcome of your research upon completion of your PhD?
I hope my research will lead to significant advancements in the field of SAR and RFI detection and mitigation. I aim for my work to enhance the accuracy and reliability of SAR data, making it more valuable for various applications such as earth observation, disaster management, and environmental monitoring.

Ultimately, I hope my research will contribute to the development of cutting-edge technologies that improve satellite operations and data quality, benefiting both the global space industry and Australia’s burgeoning space sector.

Q. What aspirations do you have for your career moving forward & how has this internship helped you get closer to these goals?
Moving forward, I aspire to continue advancing the field of SAR and space technology through innovative research and development. My goal is to secure a postdoctoral research fellowship with a major space research centre, where I can further contribute to groundbreaking projects and technological advancements. The internship at ESA’s Φ-Lab has been instrumental in bringing me closer to these goals and has reinforced my commitment to contributing to the space industry.

Nermine Hendy is an Electrical and Electronic Engineering PhD researcher at the RMIT University. She holds a Masters in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Alexandria University in Egypt and is currently working on a project to develop a spaceborne RADAR system in the hopes of developing an open-source simulator that will help improve synthetic aperture radar (SAR). She also teaches a number of undergraduate courses in various adjacent research areas, such as network fundamentals and embedded systems.