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Bob Dirks, Systems Engineer TNO

“I want to put quantum technology into space”. Bob Dirks always wanted to become an astronaut. As a systems architect in quantum-, optical and space technology at TNO, he has come surprisingly close to achieving his childhood dream.

 “As a systems architect I am responsible for the progress of projects from the technology point-of-view, and then especially during the acquisition and conceptual phase. I make sure that the different disciplines and areas of expertise involved in a project converge into a solution that can help the customer move forward. The nice thing about my role is that I have to know a lot about everything, without having to be a specialist in anything. Currently, I am supporting a team that is developing laser satcom and quantum technology for secure network connections and quantum communication via air and space, for which we want to make use of satellites. To this end, together with the business developer, I’m setting up internal and external collaborations because these are major, complex and expensive projects. To get quantum technology into space, that’s my drive at TNO.”

Into space

“Physics was my favorite subject at school, and after school hours I was always working on experiments. I went on to study Applied Physics at the University of Twente. The choices I made there, and subsequently, were always shaped by my desire to become an astronaut one day. But when I wasn’t selected for the European Astronaut Corps in 2009, I suddenly had the feeling that a whole world had opened up to me. It was because I wanted to broaden my horizons and engage with disciplines that were new to me that I chose TNO. And I’ve never regretted that.”

Two old loves

“In the six years I’ve been with TNO, I’ve worked in several different sectors and focus areas. Building and infrastructures, oil and gas, optics, and now quantum technology and space. So I’ve returned to two old loves of mine: physics and space exploration. I’m completely at home here, with some even more exciting challenges just around the corner.”

Never at a loss

“Even so, I haven’t ruled out exploring new paths at TNO. There are just so many opportunities here. The huge diversity of disciplines and projects means that you’re never at a loss for something new to do. However, that does bring a challenge of its own: you have to find the right place for you. You’re just like a lone entrepreneur trying to generate his own business. I do that mainly by talking to many different people and by telling them about what I do and what I like. Through face-to-face contacts, time and again I’ve found myself working on great projects.”

Tough deadlines

“In the applied research we do here at TNO, time and money are not unlimited. That can be frustrating sometimes, but it keeps you aware of how long things take and how much they cost. Which ensures that you work more efficiently, professionally and effectively. That’s a real difference compared with doing research at a university.”

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