Meet Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez, Freshly Elected to the French Air and Space Academy

Available online :

• At ISAE-SUPAERO, Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez heads up SaCLaB, a research laboratory on the space systems of the future.
• As full professor of space systems engineering, she was elected to the Académie de l’Air et de l’Espace in May.
• This is recognition by her peers of a brilliant and atypical career in the service of a passion: space exploration.

Key Dates

1971: born in Toulon (Var).
1995: Graduates from Supaéro (S1995).
2008: working for Altran Technologies, part of the Vehicule Engineers Team operating the Jules Verne cargo ship, the first ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle).
2009: joins ISAE-SUPAERO as an associate professor in space systems engineering.
2015: defends her doctoral thesis on "Operational scenarios optimization for resupply of crew and cargo of an International gateway Station located near the Earth-Moon-Lagrangian point-2" as part of a joint ISAE-SUPAERO / University of Stuttgart degree programme.
2017: takes charge of SaCLaB, a research laboratory on advanced space concepts, as part of a sponsorship chair with Airbus and ArianeGroup.
2022: obtains her Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches, awarded by the University of Toulouse, on "Space rendezvous: from Earth orbit to the cis-lunar environment ".
2024: elected Correspondent of the Académie de l’Air et de l’Espace.

Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez describes her career as “atypical”. But there is one thing that remains constant: her burning passion for space.

This passion finds fertile ground in her native Provence, “where shooting stars are so bright” – and in the Nice Observatory, the subject of a school trip at primary school. On her return, the schoolgirl couldn’t stop wondering about the Universe... and drawing her thirst for knowledge from books.

“There was a mobile library that passed through the village where I lived. I used to borrow all the books on science. I was particularly struck by a story about Marie Curie told by her daughter.”

At that precise moment, she made her decision: she too would become a scientist. But in the field of space.

She heard about Supaéro during her secondary education. The École Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse became her goal. During her classe préparatoire at the Lycée Thiers in Marseille, she met an “exceptional” maths teacher who encouraged her to follow this path. A teacher who would later become... that of Arnaud Prost, another ISAE-SUPAERO alumnus and current ESA reserve astronaut.

“Astronauts in Jeans”

Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez took the Supaéro entrance exam in 1992 and graduated as an engineer in 1995. After working in mechanical and control engineering at Aerospatiale les Mureaux (now ArianeGroup) and Matra Marconi Space (now Airbus Defence and Space), she joined Altran Technologies, where she stayed for 13 years. One experience made a particular impression on her:

“In 2008, I was part of the Vehicule Engineer Team responsible for developing and piloting the first ATV, a cargo spacecraft developed by ESA to supply the ISS. We were known as "astronauts in jeans"! I flew the first ATV from CNES in Toulouse. It was fantastic. I had five screens in front of me and I had to stay focused while bottles of champagne were being opened all around me!”

That same year, she applied for the ESA astronaut selection process, during which another Supaéro alumnus, Thomas Pesquet, was chosen. Fate took her elsewhere:
“My former professor at Supaéro, Bénédicte Escudier, contacted me about a teaching position in Systems Engineering at ISAE-SUPAERO. I thought, why not?”

From Space Rendezvous to Advanced Space Concepts

In her new role, she has discovered a passion for teaching, and more particularly for supporting students. She found “the human side that was missing when I was an engineer”. At the same time, she began a doctoral thesis on space rendezvous - when two vehicles reduce their distance to become one - with a double degree from ISAE-SUPAERO and the University of Stuttgart.

“It was interesting for me to discover the theory after having dealt with this subject operationally as an engineer”.

After defending her thesis in 2015, she began supervising doctoral and post-doctoral students. She is also responsible for the Advanced Master TAS Astro.

Her colleagues describe her as a teacher and professor who is very present and attentive.

“She is very welcoming and, despite her busy schedule, she always finds time for her students and her colleagues”, notes Spencer Boone, a post-doctoral student in space mechanics.

“After Covid, I was struggling to find a work placement. She opened the doors of her lab to me and we worked on my internship topic together”, says Augustin Gallois, now a PhD student under her supervision.

Francesco Sanfedino, an associate professor in space systems control in his laboratory, remembers his years as an engineering student at ISAE-SUPAERO:

“Stéphanie gave us the great opportunity to work on a research project involving a CubeSat. At the time, we knew nothing about the research environment, but our paper was selected for an international conference. It opened doors for me and my partner”.

Research of the Future and Little-Explored Subjects

In 2017, as part of a sponsorship chair with Airbus and ArianeGroup, Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez took over as head of SaCLaB (Space Advanced Concepts Laboratory), “a research laboratory on advanced space systems, along the lines of what is done in major American universities”. The laboratory is interested in orbital systems, future space transportation and robotic and human space exploration in a future of more than 15 years.

The SaCLaB team around Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez.

The team works “on major international programmes, and our research is funded by organisations such as ESA, CNES and groups like Airbus Defence & Space and Thales”, explains Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez. “But we are also working on subjects that are rarely tackled.”

“Stéphanie is one of the few specialists in space mechanics in France”, says Spencer Boone.
Augustin Gallois, whose thesis concerns the eco-design of a lunar habitat, reports “the opportunity to study many aspects of a little-explored subject”.

A Chevalier des Palmes Académiques and active in various learned societies, Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez was elected at the end of May to the Académie de l’Air et de l’Espace, based in Toulouse. She joins two other active professors at ISAE-SUPAERO, Yves Gourinat (freshly elected full member) and Frédéric Dehais (correspondant). This is yet another accolade for this enthusiast, who is just one experience away from being fulfilled: space travel.

“I tried my luck again when the ESA selected its astronauts for 2022. I went as far as the psycho-technical tests... But I’m not giving up. I’ll find a way!”

The Space Advanced Concepts Laboratory (SaCLab)

Part of the Design and Operation of Aeronautical and Space Vehicles (DCAS) research department, the SacLab is made up of five full members (Stéphanie Lizy-Destrez, Annafederica Urbano, Joan Pau Sanchez-Cuartielles, Thibault Gateau and Francesco Sanfedino), three post-docs and fifteen PhD students, who are supported by around sixty students working on research projects.

Its main areas of research are: in-orbit servicing (space rendezvous, trajectory optimisation, quantification and propagation of uncertainties); space debris monitoring and mitigation, particularly in cislunar environments; advanced space transportation (reusable launch vehicles, space propulsion, refuelling in space and fuel storage) ; robotic and human space exploration (optimisation of interplanetary trajectories to the Moon, Mars, Phobos, Enceladus and asteroids; AI for autonomously and distributed systems; eco-design of lunar bases; characterisation of the impact of isolation and confinement on crew performance). The environmental and societal impact of space missions is a theme that cuts across all research projects.

The Air and Space Academy

The Academy is based in Toulouse and is made up of French and foreign Members and Correspondents who hold, or have held, major responsibilities in their respective fields related to aeronautics and space. They represent a unique pool of knowledge in Europe, with the aim of encouraging and promoting the development of high-quality scientific, technical, cultural and human activities in the fields of Air and Space. The Correspondents liaise between the Academy and national and international aerospace activities.

Our news Research

For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.
Choose an RSS feed
The entire RSS feed
RSS Feed by theme
Campus Academic programs Institute International Diversity program Research Companies Sustainable Development Innovation DEOS Alumni Doctorat DCAS Ingénieur DMSM Mastère Spécialisé DISC LACS Apprentissage Evénement DAEP