Speaker Spotlight – Katherine Pegg, Airbus Defence & Space



Katherine is a Project Manager and Systems Engineer within the ISS Evolutions & Commercial Applications team at Airbus DS in Bremen. She manages a portfolio of human spaceflight and debris removal projects and technologies. Prior to speaking at the Space Tech Expo Europe Technology Forum we caught up with Katherine about utlising augmented reality within the space industry. 


Please tell us a little bit more about your role as Project Manager & System Engineer at Airbus Defence & Space.

As a Project Manager and System Engineer at Airbus Defence & Space, I drive dynamic, multidisciplinary, international teams to develop and execute space missions and space services in the arena of on-orbit services and exploration. My role calls for a ‘jill-of-all-trades’ approach – at any point during the day I might be wearing the hat of a business developer, a technology expert, a system engineer, a project manager, a technical lead or an intrapreneur/innovator.  

I started my career with Airbus seven years ago as a Mission Systems Engineer in Future Programs. I have enjoyed contributing to a number of missions including Lisa Pathfinder, Orion, e.deorbit and others. Today, I am in the ISS Services department, and in this frame I am the Payloads Mission Manager for Bartolomeo. In parallel, I am also leading our augmented reality (AR) activities for human spaceflight. In the latter role, I work closely with our Airbus Holographic Academy experts to capture all of the exciting developments occurring across the Airbus Group.


What would you say are the key challenges and opportunities you face at present?

For human spaceflight activities, what I find to be incredibly interesting at the moment is how, driven by NASA’s pathway towards commercial operations, the International Space Station is evolving into a sustainable marketplace shared between scientific, educational and commercial users with significant investment of industrial and private capital. New commercial platforms and modules will complement the infrastructure with new capabilities within the next years, such as Airbus’s Bartolomeo All-in-One-Mission-Service. Digital solutions on ground and in-orbit will allow for an increase in the utilisation of the ISS, evolving it further into a competitive system in LEO capable of not just meeting the demands of scientific users at space agencies, but also those of commercial users. AR is part of this story, with its capacity to empower astronauts, operators and payload providers with the right information at the right time. This is especially important as we prepare for humans travelling beyond LEO, where in-space just-in-time learning and astronaut empowerment become even more important.

For AR, we are facing three key challenges. The first is that using consumer technologies in an industrial environment means we must take special care with performance (especially accuracy), security, health and safety and the overall implementation approach. The second is ensuring that we capture truly game-changing use cases and manage our portfolio to invest in the right direction, against the background of a very fast-evolving and volatile technology. The third is to convince those people that have not used AR before of its power – that it is not just a marketing gimmick or only suitable for one-off applications. However, this is being quickly overcome as more people try out the latest AR systems and see it for themselves. To meet these challenges and harness the major opportunities, Airbus has centralised its AR and VR experts into a Holographic Academy that works across the entire business to develop the technology, advance our in-house capabilities and support the use-case experts (such as myself) to develop their own applications.


You will speak about Utilising Augmented Reality for the Space Industry at the Technology Forum on 24 October at Space Tech Expo Europe. Augmented and virtual reality are gaining popularity among engineers – how do you think this will revolutionise the way we approach engineering?

The leap is similar to going from paper to CATIA. Virtual reality (VR) has actually already changed engineering, as it has been deployed in specialised ‘Cave’ facilities for the last 25 years. The big change is that very soon any engineer will have easy access to the technology in their daily work. This will completely change engineering, as everyone will finally be close to the product, scale 1.


What are the advantages of using augmented reality in engineering as opposed to ‘conventional’ engineering for the space industry?

AR allows us to be faster and more efficient, bringing the right information, at the right time, at the right place. This is especially true in a very complex environment. VR is very important as well, allowing for the simulation of very expensive, complex or even impossible situations, but at a very low cost. These capabilities extend the horizon of what is possible to simulate, test and execute – alone or in collaborative scenarios.


Which areas within the space industry will benefit most from augmented reality?

There are just so many possible use cases. We can readily transfer developments from adjacent industries across into the space industry. Already at Airbus, we have ongoing developments in dozens of use cases in our aerospace domain, some of which we have already rolled out into our day-to-day operations. Applications include those related to maintenance, AIT, training, classroom learning, outreach, technical collaboration, collaborative real-time operations, marketing, design, and others. My specific area of interest is human spaceflight use cases, and here we can imagine benefits from (but not limited to) astronaut and operator procedure guidance and execution use cases, ground and in-space training, collaboration and also astronaut recreation, outreach and EVA support. And this is not just limited to institutional spaceflight; we can also imagine many applications for suborbital flight spaceflight pilots and spaceflight participants – and for those wanting to take part from home.


In terms of industry news, what development, announcement or otherwise has stood out most to you in the past year?

The foundation of so many startups in the space business is exciting and opens many opportunities. This, together with the ramp-up of the OneWeb manufacturing system, stands symbolically for a new space era.  


We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Technology Forum at Space Tech Expo Europe. Can you tell us what you’re most looking forward to at the show?

I’m looking forward to receiving feedback on our human spaceflight AR solutions, hearing visitors’ ideas about how AR might be useful to their business, and learning about the developments in the industry since the last Space Tech Expo Europe.

Don’t miss Katherine’s session on Utilising Augmented Reality for the Space Industry on Wednesday 25 October at 15:40 in the Technology Forum.