University of Bristol
9 GCSES (5A*, 2A, 2B), AS-levels: Electronics (A), A2-levels: Maths(A), Physics(A), Economics(A), Degree: Master's in Aerospace Engineering (MEng)
Space Technology Intern @ United Nations, Spacecraft Controller @ European Space Agency
An easy going guy with lots of interests!
I currently live in Abingdon – a cool little market town in South Oxfordshire, although I’m originally from Horsham. When I’m not working you’ll usually find me playing the guitar, scuba diving, or cooking. I also love discussing philosophy, science, and food.
Ambitions for the future include:
- learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu🥋
- getting a private pilots license 🛩
- visiting Japan 🇯🇵
- learning Russian 🇷🇺
- homebrewing 🍻
I work at the UK Space Agency and model spacecraft orbits, calculating the risks of satellites smashing into each other.
In some ways the process to actually get a spacecraft flying in orbit is a bit like the process to get a drivers license. Before you can actually launch spacecraft into orbit you need to apply for a license from the government. The purpose of this, much like a drivers license, is to ensure that satellite operators know what they’re doing, and to make sure that they will operate safely, securely, and responsibly in outer space.
In a nutshell my job is to help assess how ‘good’ the potential spacecraft operators will be and help inform the government with their licensing decisions. Because space is so complex we develop models of the orbital environment using knowledge of all the objects we know about up there, and investing how risky certain missions might be. It’s not a simple matter of saying yes or no, there are lots of factors to consider when evaluating the risks of spacecraft in orbit such as:
- Some orbits are much more congested (risky) than others
- If spacecraft go into very high orbits it can take a very long time for them to come back down (as atmospheric density/drag is much lower the higher you go). You don’t want spacecraft to be sitting around in orbit for a very long time because it increases the risks that something else will smash into them and cause lots of bits of (dangerous) junk to be created.
- Not all spacecraft are made equal – some have different reliability rates (some will fail more easily than others), some have propulsion which means they can move out the way if they detect another spacecraft is getting too close whereas some do not have propulsion.
- New missions – the space industry is quite exciting at the minute and there are lots of new and novel missions being proposed (such as mega constellations and rendezvous and proximity operations). These pose new risks and require new modelling and approaches to quantify.
By developing sophisticated models of the orbital environment we can obtain metrics which allow us to more easily infer how risky a particular mission might be. My job is about developing these models and using their outputs to help make informed decisions!
My Typical Day: Coffee, Coding, Calculating, Communicating
I’m definitely a night owl so i’m usually the last one into the office and the last one out. Before starting my work day a big mug of coffee is essential. From there i’ll check what I have to do for the day – this usually involves some combination of:
- Computer programming – I use a bunch of different languages like C/C++,Java, Python, Bash.
- Algorithm development – Thinking about how to effectively implement some functionality in software. To give you a recent example I had to research efficient ways to test if very large numbers are prime numbers or not. This led me to investigate some really interesting mathematics like how to find the remainder for huge numbers and primality tests.
- Attending internal meetings – Admittedly my least favorite part of the job but often (but not always) necessary!
- Meeting with external bodies – This can actually be really interesting. I’ve gotten to go to the control centres to meet with the Flight Control Teams of various spacecraft operators, and also collaborate with cool government agencies like NCSC.
- Attending International Conferences – Granted this is not an everyday occurrence but something I get to do fairly regularly. Last year I went to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where I presented some of our work. These are always really interesting!
What I'd do with the money
Use it to help Engineers without Borders!
I’d like to donate all the proceeds to Engineers without Borders for their STEM outreach activities – EWB is a great charity that aims to bring people, ideas and engineering together to respond to the world’s most pressing problems. Read more about them here.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
curious, analytical, hilarious
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Contributing to a major scientific discovery! I was working as a spacecraft controller at the European Space Agency where I was responsible for controlling three of Europe's major astronomy and fundamental physics missions (Gaia, XMM and Integral). One day I came onto my shift only to find out we had a massive network failure at the control centre affecting all missions (a very stressful situational in its own right). On the same day we also received news from the ESA astronomer that we had to perform an urgent Target of Opportunity (effectively change where the spacecraft is pointing to observe something important happening in the sky). There were rumours that the LIGO/VIRGO observatories had picked up gravitational waves from a neutron star collision. This was quite exciting because it had long been theorised in astronomy that such events would give rise to simultaneous gravitational wave disturbances and electromagnetic radiation (gamma ray bursts). We (the INTEGRAL flight control team) were working against clock like crazy to bring the systems back online following the network failures to try to get this observation. Our hard work paid off because in the end INTEGRAL was able to capture the EM/Gamma Ray Burst data from this event to confirm the discovery! The discovery itself was such an important finding in the field of astronomy and the late and great Stephen Hawking even talked about it in his final interview. It was a great privilege and a super exciting moment.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
I was always fascinated with aviation since a young age but it was really following the Rosetta mission operations team that made me want to branch into the space industry
What was your favourite subject at school?
Maths of course!
What did you want to be after you left school?
A musician believe it or not
Were you ever in trouble at school?
All the time - I think a lot scientists like to question authority
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I think being an F35 pilot would be pretty cool
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Changes frequently. At the minute i'm really into the electronic band Odesza.
What's your favourite food?
I'm a big foodie and an adventurous eater. But anything spicy with a kick usually makes me happy.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I was really lucky and got to attend the International Space University's Summer Space Programme. It's basically a two month space camp for adults where you get to party with astronauts, engineers and scientists all working in the space industry!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Being selected as crew for the first mission to Mars, getting to fly in a fighter jet, being able to eat carbs without gaining weight
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a stolen satellite? Sput-nicked