Lecturer at Surrey Space Centre (SSC), University of Surrey
Where do you work and what is your job?
I am an On-board Data Handling (OBDH) Lecturer at Surrey Space Centre (SSC), University of Surrey.
What does your job involve?
It involves a good mix of lecturing on satellite subsystems, programming astrodynamics, and designing on-board data handling equipment – either in FPGAs or as full systems. I also jointly lead the STRaND programme between SSC and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) which includes a lot of tasks from Android programming to systems design to radiation testing.
This project is particularly important because it will be testing smart-phone processors and our adapted software which could push forward satellite computing capabilities even further for more exotic missions such as formations or clusters of satellites operating or ‘behaving’ together.
Lastly, I have a chance to think and write proposals for new satellite design ideas or concepts, and to talk to others about my new ideas in collaborations with other universities – pulling together to create something new that others can use in future missions.
What interested you in working in the space sector?
Designing electronics for space is far more trickier than Earth – which poses some very unique challenges. The space environment is very hostile and you have to ensure your designs work with no or little atmosphere, a wide temperature range, and an assault of radiation in the form of protons, heavy ions, and electrons from the Sun. Fault tolerance and operation under these conditions can be particularly tricky, and understanding ‘where’ and ‘when’ your satellite will operate begins to tell us what we need to include in the design. If I were working in the smart-phone or microelectronics industry, it would all seem a bit too vanilla for me.
What do you do in a typical day?
My typical day can be very varied! From teaching and research where I best figure out how to describe key concepts for satellite subsystem design, to reading papers on how to process images and the mathematics behind how light reflects from solar sail materials.
Some days I get to give talks to schools and general public too. Good examples of this are the SATRO Science Festivals and, of course, BBC’s Stargazing which gets people to really think about what is really out there and how satellites affect their lives.
It’s great to have this amount of variation, but I enjoy getting back to the root science and engineering problems.
Are there any other interesting aspects to your work?
Performing environmental tests such total ionising dose experiments, although long and tiring, are very exciting because you get real data and results. Similar to this, a new processor or multi-processor design may take a long time to compile and simulate but getting these hardware and software results running on development boards right on your desk is very exciting to see.
As an academic, conferences also allow me to travel and speak to other experts in the field which can lead to collaboration or Eureka moments in research. Seeing new places and cultures is also a passion of mine.
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Chris Bridges and STRaND-1.
Credit: The Observer.
What is it about your job that fascinates or inspires you?
My job really allows me to convey my passion for space – through my teaching, research talks, and Twitter (@DrChrisBridges btw!).
Why is what you do important?
I have the chance to test and extend knowledge in the field of on-board computing for space, which are travelling at ~ 7 km/s which is incredibly fast. Figuring out how to achieve things we take for granted here on Earth, such as communication or imaging without it being blurry or distorted, can be real challenges.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in space?
I started with a National Diploma (ND) at Mid-Kent College in Medway, Kent, where I had a chance to study electronics. I then pursued a HND and BEng in Electronics again before I realised that electronics was the career for me. Learning about space, first through the aerospace and defence industry, really sparked my imagination.
So my advice to anyone out there is to enjoy learning, whether it’s mathematics, engineering, media studies or psychology – space needs them all. And if you continually test your own boundaries, you’ll figure out what sparks you too.