Since university, always worked here (been here for 7.5 years)
Spacecraft Systems Engineer – BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter Missions
Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK. It is Europe’s largest Space company and all my missions are for the European Space Agency (ESA).
Spacecraft Systems Engineer – I design and build things that go into Space!
My job is to make everything on the Spacecraft we are building work together. I work in a big team on 3 major Space projects, which are all European Space Agency – EarthCARE, BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter. EarthCARE is going to be looking at water content in clouds around the Earth and we have just finished all our work in the UK. BepiColombo is a big mission going to the planet Mercury – it will take 6 years for it to get to the planet once it is launched, and when it gets there it will get very HOT as it is so close to the Sun – so a big engineering challenge! Solar Orbiter is a mission I have just started to work on and it is going to be going very close to the Sun to take lots of measurements about how the Sun works.
It takes a long time to design and build these missions, so I typically work on each one for quite a few years. We work in teams, which is exciting as they are often international teams. I have to talk to lots of people, make design and manufacturing decisions and analyse all the options. I love my work and am excited to be able to tell you about it.
My Typical Day
No two days are the same – I spend a lot of time talking to people about decisions we are making.
I drive about an hour to work; when I get here it is often straight into meetings but first, I walk past our cleanrooms and see all the spacecraft and how they are getting on. It helps to motivate me and, if one of my missions is on site then I can see what progress has been made to it! During the day, I will work on lots of different areas, so I carry a book with me all the time to note down what has been discussed and agreed. Today, I am working on a system to keep the instruments on Solar Orbiter clean all the time, so I am leading a small team to develop a system of air that will blow over the instruments all the time that we are building the spacecraft and even whe we are hoisting it up the rocket at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. I shall be going there in May to discuss my system. Then, this afternoon I shall be talking to the experts who are designing the electrical propulsion system on the BepiColombo mission. This fires ions out the back of the specacrft for 6 years to get the mission to Mercury and this week there is lots of testing, so I am part of the team approving the next stage of each test, and looking at the test results. I also have a graduate working for me, so I need to see him today to ensure he knows what he is doing.
After work, I’ll try to go to the gym before going home. I’ll get home about 8 o’clock.
What I'd do with the money
Develop a giant spacecraft teaching tool
The idea is to have a giant spacecraft which can be put into a car and taken to schools, then assembled by the students as though they were building the spacecraft themselves. They would have to decide where to put all the key components; antennas, thermal blankets, propulsion tanks, thrusters, waveguides etc. So that everyone could be a spacecraft engineer for the day. I would need to buy all the pieces, and then I would ask students to help develop the activity.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Adventurous, problem solving!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I like going to lots of live music so all sorts really!
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Well, fun for me is watersports. I once did a 200km journey by kite, kitesurfing down the Brazilian coast.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I always wanted to do something to do with Space, so this is a dream come true!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sometimes for not doing my homework!!
What's the best thing you've done as an engineer?
I think seeing all of the BepiColombo mission in the same cleanroom at ESA in Holland for the first time was really cool. Plus, through my outreach work I was once invited to Buckingham Palace to be part of a group meeting the Queen.
If you weren't an engineer, what would you be?
I would be working in a team, analytical/problem solving and working under pressure. So, quite a range of options. Or, maybe a teacher.
Tell us a joke.
The Optimist sees a glass half full, the Pessimist half empty. The Engineer sees a glass twice as large as it needs to be.
Where I work, we design all or part of a mission and then will build all or part of it on-site. The missions we build are some of the largest of their kind in the world. Unfortunately, some of the parts are too secret for me to put photos online! I’ll see if work can let me take some this week.