4 mins read 20 Jun 2022

Women of the Australian Space Community: Dr Lily Qiao

Women play a huge role in the Australian space sector, and each week will be sharing the story of an inspiring woman who makes our community so special. 

Dr Lily Qiao is a Lecturer in Space Systems Engineering at the School of Engineering and Information Technology (SEIT) at the UNSW Canberra campus. She obtained her PhD in guidance, navigation and control in 2011.

In March each year, we not only celebrate International Women’s Day but we also enjoy learning about all the contributions women have made to society during Women’s History Month. Originally started in the US in 1987, it has in recent times, in part due to social media, become more well known across the world. 

As a celebration of all the wonderful work, inspiration and support that women across our region do in the space sector, will be speaking to a new women in the Australian space community weekly, to uncover their stories and find out who inspires them.  

Dr Lily Qiao - Lecturer in Space Systems Engineering at the School of Engineering and Information Technology (SEIT), UNSW Canberra campus.

What is your role at UNSW Canberra?

I am an academic, and researcher with a demonstrated history of quality teaching and research in the space systems engineering area for the higher education section.

Currently, I am a lecturer in space system engineering in the school of Engineering and Information Technology, University of New South Wales, Canberra. I obtained my PhD in Guidance, Navigation and Control in 2011. 

How did you end up working in the space sector and what drew you to it?

After I graduated, I worked on the design of an Earth Observation (EO) Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite mission and the UNSW EC0 CubeSat mission at the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) at UNSW Sydney. After that, I went on to do research on computer-aided systems engineering methods at the Capability System Centre, School of Engineering and IT, UNSW Canberra.

 I have expertise in Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC), Space Systems Engineering, Computer-aided complexity management, Information Theory, Mathematical Modeling, Signal Filtering and Data mining. 

I am a passionate teacher who has taught in many different courses at UNSW. My teaching is across postgraduate and undergraduate. The courses I have been involved in teaching are Space Systems Design, Space Operation, Space Systems Engineering, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and Radar Techniques and Applications. 

Space is inspiring and attractive and I am always enthusiastic about my work. 

What do you love about what you do?

I am a teacher in the space education program. I get a lot of happiness from the teaching process as I want my students to succeed. My teaching is crossing undergraduates and postgraduates. As a result of continuing to develop the teaching materials methods, my course got 100% satisfaction last year. 

I served as the assessment coordinator in the teaching leadership group, where I engage learners from different educational, cultural and language backgrounds to promote active learning and reflection. My supervisor praised me for taking the position to a higher level. 

I am also a researcher in space systems engineering. My job is to identify a research problem and solve it. A recent joyful experience for me was doing a pilot study to apply my research methods to a problem in a real project, filling a gap in the current process. There are many highlights as an academic in space engineering. 

Mary Winston Jackson (1921–2005) successfully overcame the barriers of segregation and gender bias to become a professional aerospace engineer and leader in ensuring equal opportunities for future generations. Credit: NASA.

Which women in the history of the Space Industry do you look up to? What was it about their achievements that resonated with you?

If you have seen the movie “Hidden Figures” you will have heard of Mary Jackson. Mary W. Jackson was an outstanding mathematician and space engineer. She worked at NASS for 34 years. She might not be the most obvious person, but she was determined without any doubt. She was a black woman and needed to fight sexual inequality to climb to the top of her field. She was NASA's first black woman aerospace engineer. When life is tough, I think of Mary and get inspired. I live in a much better environment than Mary, thus I have no excuse for not working hard.  

What do you think are some of the issues faced by women in the space sector and how do you think they should be resolved?

There are few female academics in engineering and even fewer in space engineering. All I can do is keep encouraging my female students and myself to keep going. 

What has been your most interesting discovery or been the most interesting space-related project you have worked on or been part of?

There are two projects. The recent one is the M2 satellite separation. The previous one is the Earth Observation Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite mission design.