Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency.
What does your job involve?
I work at the UK Space Agency HQ where I lead the team of 50 staff who manage the UK's civil space policy, regulation and programmes. I am the Head of the UK delegation to the European Space Agency, based in Paris.
What interested you in working in the space sector?
I’m a child of the Apollo era. I was six years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon and I was bitten by the bug of space back then. The excitement persists to this day – and it’s useful to remind yourself of that that when you are stuck in another long meeting, waiting for a delayed flight home or wrestling with balancing budgets! I was also really into aircraft so I studied aeronautics and astronautics at Southampton University - a really tough but excellent course. I still love going to air shows but the variety you get in space is unbeatable.
What do you do in a typical day?
No such thing! The only consistent thing is trying to keep up with the many e-mails that come in every day. A lot of time is spent on solving problems and removing barriers so people in our universities and industries can achieve their goals in space. Space projects can take a long time to go from the first idea to actually being launched, so keeping focused on the long game is important. There might be an instrument we are building that is in difficulty and we need to decide whether extra people or cash will solve the problem; or a briefing to write for our Minister when he visits the space centre in another country; or maybe a trip to a school to talk about our space programme. There’s a lot of travel involved – I’m typically away from home one or two nights a week and out of the office three days a week. Luckily, I’ve got an understanding partner and a great PA to sort out my diary and travel arrangements.
Are there any other interesting aspects to your work?
I’ve been very lucky to have some fantastic experiences. Having lunch with Buzz Aldrin and hearing Neil Armstrong speak are unrepeatable highpoints. So were seeing the launch of Hylas-1 at the European space port in Kourou and being at ESOC when Europe’s Huygens probe landed on Titan – a billion miles away! Just now, my responsibilities are increasing so I’m getting up to speed again on Earth observation which I haven’t worked in for a few years; and also telecoms satellites where there are some exciting developments. The range of science connected with space is amazing too – everything from climate science to gravitational waves; and from the biology of extremophiles to how new alloys could be made in zero-g.
What is it about your job that fascinates or inspires you?
The variety of people you meet working in the space sector is a constant delight. Whichever country they come from - and we work with the 18 countries of ESA plus Americans, Japanese, Indians and so on – space people have a sort of common bond, an enthusiasm and creativity to overcome the many challenges that making progress in space throws up all the time.
Why is what you do important?
There’s no doubt that the UK needs to keep in the forefront of key industries of the future in order for everyone to have the best possible quality of life. I believe that space is important in so many ways – for business, for understanding our changing planet and just for the new knowledge and discovery we can gain. Our job is to explain this to decision makers and to do the best job we can in delivering an excellent space programme for our country. It’s a privilege to be doing this job.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in space?
Study hard and follow your dreams. Find out what the space sector is really like – starting with the UK Space Agency web site! And try and get different experiences – I’m lucky to have done basic research, worked in industry and government at different times in my career.