Interview: Chris Lee - SpaceCareers.uk
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Chris LeeCredit: Chris LeeChris Lee

Interview

Chris Lee

Business Development Manager for Future Space Programmes at SCISYS UK


What does your job involve?

Software is an unsung jewel in the “UK Space Crown” and remains the only subsystem you can regularly replace in orbit once the mission is launched. My role is to work with our team of engineers to identify space software that will be required for future space missions and to work with them and our customers to secure and deliver this. I generally focus on institutional customers such as ESA and missions such as ExoMars and Earth Explorer but over the last few years I also address more Commercial space markets such as Telecommunications and Integrated Applications. My job can take me to Westminster or to Paris but my life is usually encompassed by the confines of a train or car!

What interested you in working in the space sector?

I have always been attracted to Space ever since I acquired my first telescope at age 11. It was a great time to grow up (with the Moon Landings) and I feel sorry for today’s generation who missed out on this. I chose Physics with Astrophysics at Leicester and then its Space Science Masters course as my route through University as this combined my interests in space technology and astronomy. However as the years have moved on I have gained a greater appreciation (and interest) in the “business” of space. This requires a pragmatic appreciation of space as “utility” rather than (just) “inspiration”.

What do you do in a typical day?

The days can be very varied. Often I am in meetings with our software engineers, gaining insights into what they offer as a capability, either now or in the future. I also monitor the status of space missions to determine possible software opportunities that might lead to future business, feeding back any insights into our bidding processes. It is also my role to promote our interests to potential customers and partners (industry, academia, agencies, sponsors etc) and this will often mean site visits in UK or Europe. An important aspect of my day is to liaise with others in the UK Space Industry (including competitors!) to raise the whole profile of our community to UK Government who are our biggest customer. This is most normally conducted via working meetings in London with our UKspace Trade Association. Finally SCISYS values relationships with the media and part of my day may be spent preparing press releases.

Are there any other interesting aspects to your work?

Space is by its nature a very collaborative enterprise, involving engineers, academics and funding partners. It is also very international and this offers real opportunities to engage with other cultures, other nationalities. This has broadened my perspective in many ways that would not normally be possible with just an “office job” based solely in UK. Also I am impressed with the growing range of applications of space technology for terrestrial user communities; either in their use of our technology (ie robotics) or data services (ie weather forecasts). UK is a very good place to be for this type of development as we are generally more focused on exploitation than others in Europe. I feel it is only more recently that the General Public “gets” Space. When I first explained I was a Space Engineer in the 1980’s it was assumed I moved furniture!

What is it about your job that fascinates or inspires you?

Space missions can be frustrating because of their long timescales and yes politics of who contributes what can depress us all at times (there is never enough budget!), yet they usually require development of some of the most challenging technologies on the planet. Can an engineer get a better buzz? In our case software roles cut across every aspect of a mission, from conceptual design through to data delivery and this affords me a chance to personally witness the way a mission is shaped from the “cradle to the grave”. I just wish there were more of them!

Why is what you do important?

I have learned to respect the discipline UK Government places on “utility” of space assets in addition to “inspiration” and the implications of this on programme funding choices. In constrained economic times this means limited support for certain space ideas. Since SCISYS is engaged across many space markets and we are active in the UKspace Trade Association I have the opportunity to shape this debate and prepare both my own company and the wider industry for the times ahead. Decisions I get involved with do make a difference.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in space?

Firstly, after 30 years I would not swap working in Space for any other profession and that speaks for itself! OK so life is not always good news and it’s not always about “astronauts and rocket-science”. It can be very pragmatic and often quite routine. It is after all a business. So, while many enter the sector with strong backgrounds in maths, physics and space engineering, the community also values the role of the specialist (in our case software) as commercial customers often depend on quality of service in addition to the “traditional” space needs of, say, a mission designer. I would also encourage “market oriented” engineers and scientists to equally consider our domain. Shaping a business case can be as important as shaping the mission.

Author

UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is an executive agency of the Government of the United Kingdom, responsible for the United Kingdom's civil space programme.

This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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