ISS Flight Operations Engineer & STRATOS Flight Control Team Deputy Lead, DLR – German Aerospace Centre
Matej Poliacek is a Flight Operations Engineer and Deputy Team Lead of the STRATOS Flight Control Team for the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS) at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). In this role, he supports the astronaut crew onboard by monitoring and operating the systems and payloads in the module, ensuring crew safety, smooth running of the station and supporting scientific activities. Matej also took part in the recent European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut selection, and although he did not reach the final stages, he was among the top 5% selection from the 22,500 applicants Europe-wide. He is currently the first and only known Slovak citizen to directly work on the ISS project. In 2023, Matej and his team conducted a hardware upgrade on the ISS from the ground alongside astronauts who were performing the on-board activities. The project, which involved replacing Columbus LAN switches, took several years of preparation, including writing and updating procedures, outlining choreography for the crew and coordination with NASA counterparts and European payload operators to facilitate the transition to new hardware with minimal impact on daily ISS operations. It took 2 full weeks of console work to complete, during which Matej supported the crew with ground commanding to properly configure the module both before and after the hardware transition, provided the crew with guidance for their on-board actions and checked out and integrated the hardware into station operations. Prior to working full-time in human spaceflight, Matej worked with autonomous mobile robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), and he and a team of colleagues won the Istrobot 2019 competition in the autonomous driving category. He also worked on cubesat mission analysis and simulation for the gamma-ray-burst-detecting cubesat GRBAlpha. Matej began his journey in the space industry as a Young Graduate Trainee at the ESA, where he worked on software technologies.
Matej’s work covers a wide variety of aspects of the space sector, including technical projects, outreach, educational and volunteer activities. In addition to his achievements on the ISS project, he is an entrepreneur who co-founded a ground-segment start-up called GroundCom, which has successfully completed the ESA Business Incubation program and has now fulfilled several hardware orders. Matej also currently spearheads a microgravity research project related to human physiology and particle transport. The project, conceived by his team, is set to fly on a parabolic flight in May 2024. Matej was selected by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) has an Emerging Space Leader, and he participated in the Next Generation Panel at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) 2023 in Baku. For his many diverse contributions to the space industry, he was recognized by Forbes Slovakia, which featured him in its 2021 edition of “30 Under 30” in the Science & Education category.
Outside of work hours, Matej has served two terms as the National Point of Contact (NPoC) for Slovakia in the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). By building on SGAC’s in-progress collaboration with Blue Origin’s foundation Club for the Future, he organized and coordinated the general Slovak public’s participation in the Club for the Future’s “Postcards to Space” initiative. Matej also formalized and documented this project for easy execution by other SGAC NPoCs. Through his work on this project, he established a close working relationship between SGAC and the Slovak Space Office and greatly expanded SGAC membership in Slovakia. Matej also organized an “Intro to SGAC” event early in 2023 and is one of the organizers for the 2023 edition of the Space Generation Congress in Baku. He was selected as SGAC Member of the Month in February 2022 and was awarded the SGAC Pioneer award in 2023. Matej has been a member of the Human Spaceflight Committee in the IAF since 2020 and is currently contributing to a committee working group aimed at engaging young professionals and helping them find their niches and opportunities in human spaceflight. He was also selected to be a mentee in the IAF Launchpad Mentorship program in 2022.