Sir Martin Sweeting with TechDemoSat-1Credit: SSTL
Sir Martin Sweeting with TechDemoSat-1

Interview

Martin Sweeting

Executive Chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and Director of The Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey.


What does your job involve?

As part of the leadership team at SSTL, I’m very much involved in taking our business forward, developing new ideas, talking to customers and potential customers –I also take a role in promoting space, and UK space in particular, by speaking at international events. I spend almost half my time travelling overseas as our business is 90% export.

I am also a Director of the Surrey Space Centre, where I lead a team of 90 faculty and doctoral researchers at the University of Surrey investigating advanced small satellite concepts and techniques, many of which are exploited by SSTL – a real academic-commercial synergy.

What interested you in working in the space sector?

I was fascinated by electronics and communications from a very early age – starting with an electric train set, moving on to building crystal sets and then becoming a radio amateur by age sixteen. During the Apollo years, I was captivated by space and so combined my interest in communications and space by constructing a home-built tracking station at the University for the then Soviet and US weather satellites. I took a degree in electronic engineering and a PhD in radio communications and in my spare time I started a project to build a tiny satellite at the University of Surrey using the emerging new microchip technologies – my first ‘microsatellite’, UoSAT-1 was launched in 1981 and I haven’t looked back since! My hobby became my career and then an international business – how much fun is that!

What do you do in a typical day?

There’s no typical day for me! I travel extensively meeting with customers and potential customers, speaking at events, and talking to key figures in the space industry. When I’m at my desk I have to set aside time in my calendar to deal with 100+ emails/day (I keep a zero inbox at the end of each day!), talk to staff and also ensure that there is thinking time – I still like to push the boundaries, challenge the status quo and come up with new ideas. If something appears impossible – I find it irresistible!

Are there any other interesting aspects to your work?

I’ve seen many satellite launches from Russia, Kourou and the US and I still find each one heart-stopping – to see the culmination of years of design and testing being blasted into orbit and then receiving the first data is thrilling.

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

Each satellite we launch, each research project, does something more amazing. That’s what continues to inspire me – there’s simply so much more to be done!

Why is what you do important?

I see myself as an enabler, helping to push SSTL, the SSC and to some extent the UK, into new areas of growth in the space sector. That’s important because space is an increasing part of our everyday lives and with the right support the UK can play a key role, creating and sustaining jobs in the sector and retaining international influence and respect as a technologically advanced nation.

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

Don’t narrow your boundaries too early – ask, read, research everything you can about space. It’s a growth sector and there are many emerging technologies, so you’ll need to keep an eye on all the possibilities while you study. It will be a demanding career but exciting – you can achieve both intellectual and financial rewards if you are imaginative, hard-working and courageous…

Author

UK Space Agency

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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