Assistant Director, Earth Observation, at the UK Space Agency
What do you do?
I work at the UK space agency on Earth Observation programmes. At the moment, my time is very tied up with our forthcoming leadership of the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters.
The Charter is an international collaboration to task satellites to provide satellite imagery in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. I also lead the space aspects of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme, an initiative designed to give Europe an independent capability to observe our environment.
What does your job involve?
My job involves talking to a whole range of people in Government, academia and industry who have an interest in space applications, either because they deliver environmental services based on space data, or because they would like to use these services. I think space offers tremendous benefits to everyday lives, but is usually quite hidden. My job is about helping to ensure that the benefits of space applications are realised.
What interested you in working in the space sector?
I think that space has a natural appeal to most people. People expect it to be exciting and often I find it is. That said, my career path to space was more luck than judgement. Work in the space sector often means working with international partners, and I particularly enjoy that aspect.
What do you do in a typical day?
Have meetings! I do real work too, typically with a wide range of people nationally and internationally. I travel a lot and I’m on the phone a lot. At the moment there are some important issues being discussed about how the Charter might operate in the future and how we can make sure that every country in the world is able to benefit from the satellite data provided by the Charter. Even the logistics of these discussions can be tricky when you are dealing with partners across some 16 different time zones!
Are there any other interesting aspects to your work?
The things that can be achieved using space data. We take GPS for granted, we take satellite TV for granted but if you think about the science behind that it is more extraordinary than science fiction. There are some incredible applications of Earth Observation data, looking at Earthquake prediction for example. A lot of these applications are in quite early stages of development but there is an exciting future for Earth Observation applications, especially with a series of GMES satellites expected to be launched over the next few years which will provide vastly more data to Europe than we have at the moment.
What is it about your job that fascinates or inspires you?
I am constantly impressed that people with very different starting motivations usually find a way of collaborating together on big space programmes. This is particularly true of the Charter, which although only operating on a best-efforts basis, space agencies across the world have collaborated to provide imagery for emergency response efforts in over 300 disasters now.
Why is what you do important?
At the moment the benefits are especially tangible. It’s about providing satellite data to help response efforts following disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Japan. More generally there are important benefits long term from space applications, like helping us manage the planet better and contributing to greater understanding of issues like climate change. Our planet has seemed quite fragile in the last few months with a range of natural disasters; space provides a unique viewpoint to help us mitigate and adapt to changes occurring on our planet.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in space?
Don’t limit your horizons! People often still think of a career in space as only about exploration. In fact space contributes to our lives in a huge variety of ways, from helping us to manage our environment to better communication and navigation. A career in space can span a whole range of sectors, you might be surprised!