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ESA Names First Director of Commercialization, Fills Earth Observation & Navigation Posts

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 22, 2021
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Europe and the Mediterranean Basin as seen from the Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) flown on board ERS-2 , the second European Remote-sensing Satellite of ESA. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — As of today, ESA has appointed three new Directors – for Commercialisation, Industry and Procurement, Earth Observation Programmes and Navigation. The new Directors were appointed by ESA Council at its meeting on 21 October; they will support the Director General with responsibility for activities and overall objectives in their respective directorates.

Director of Commercialisation, Industry and Procurement

Geraldine Naja (Credit: ESA)

Ms Géraldine Naja has been appointed to the new position of Director of Commercialisation, Industry and Procurement (D/CIP), based at ESA Headquarters in Paris. The directorate was created in May 2021 in response to the Director General’s Agenda 2025 for the future development of ESA, with commercialisation as one of its strategic priorities.

She will be responsible for elaborating and implementing ESA’s industrial policy, the Agency’s procurement rules and policies, and conducting negotiations and managing procurement for all activities and programmes. Naja will take up duty on 1 November 2021.

Naja, 56 years old, of French nationality, is currently acting Director for Commercialisation, Industry and Procurement at ESA HQ.

Naja joined ESA in 1987 as Payload Operations Engineer in the Space Station Directorate. She subsequently worked as Head of the Industrial Policy and Audit Department, in ESA HQ and ESTEC for five years.

She held various senior advisory roles in ESA and in the EU, in the areas of strategy and institutional affairs, between 1993 and 2015.

In addition, she was Advisor in charge of strategy for the Cabinet of the French Minister of Research and Higher Education, (seconded by ESA), from 2003-04.

Academic background:

  • Engineering degree, Ecole Polytechnique
  • Master’s degree in Propulsion and Chemistry, Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées (ENSTA)
  • Master’s degree in Political Sciences, specialisation international relations and European matters, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po)

Naja speaks French, English and German, has taught fluid mechanics and continues to have teaching assignments related to space policy in many universities and institutes. She is a member of various committees and advisory boards.

Director of Earth Observation Programmes

Simonetta Cheli (Credit: ESA)

Ms Simonetta Cheli has been appointed as Director of Earth Observation Programmes and as Head of ESRIN, ESA’s centre for Earth observation in Frascati, Italy. Her responsibilities cover the implementation of all ESA activities in Earth observation and the preparation of new proposals in this area. Simonetta will take up duty on 1 January 2022.

Cheli, 57 years old, of Italian nationality, is currently the Head of the ESA Strategy, Programme & Coordination Office in the Directorate of Earth Observation Programmes at ESA HQ, a position she has held since 2016.

Cheli joined ESA in 1988 in the International Relations team in ESA HQ and from there joined the Strategy service in 1997. In 1999 she moved to ESRIN in Italy and worked as Head of Communication and Institutional Relations for Italy, Spain and Portugal and in 2008 she joined the Earth Observation Programmes Directorate, until 2016 as Head of the Coordination Office.

Academic background:

  • Undergraduate studies in Law and Economics, Yale University
  • Political Sciences Degree, with thesis in international satellite telecommunications, Cesare Alfieri University, Florence, Italy
  • Diploma of Advanced Studies (DEA), Centre d’Etudes Diplomatiques et Stratégiques, Paris

Cheli speaks Italian, English, French, German and Spanish. She has held several academic teaching posts, has an extensive publication record and has received numerous nominations and awards. She is a member of numerous international working groups and think tanks.

Director of Navigation

Francisco-Javier Benedicto Ruiz (Credit; ESA)

Mr Francisco-Javier Benedicto Ruiz has been appointed as Director of Navigation, responsible for the definition, planning and execution of the Agency’s Navigation programmes, in line with the European Strategy for Space. He will be based at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, (the Netherlands).  Javier will take up duty on 16 February 2022 succeeding Mr Paul Verhoef.

Ruiz, 64 years old, of Spanish nationality, currently works in the ESA Directorate of Navigation; since 2008 as Head of the Galileo Programme Department, following eight years as Galileo Project Manager.

Ruiz started his career as Radio Frequency Engineer for MIER Comunicaciones and for the Polytechnical University of Catalonia in the early 1980s. He joined ESA as Radio Frequency Satellite Communications Engineer in the Technical Directorate at ESTEC in 1985.

He also worked as Satellite Communications Engineer for Japan Satcom Operator (1990 – 91).

He then became ESA Head of Mobile Satellite Services in the Directorate of Telecommunications at ESTEC in 1993 and EGNOS Project Manager in Toulouse (1995 – 2000).

Academic background:

  • Master of Science – Telecommunications Engineer, Polytechnical University Catalonia (UPC)

Ruiz speaks Spanish, English, French, Italian, Dutch, Catalan and Japanese. He has over 100 publications in technical journals and conferences, holds three international ESA patents and has received five honours and awards.

We wish to thank Paul Verhoef for his tremendous work and the contribution he has made to the evolution of Navigation at ESA over the past five years.