Director of Policy and Operations at the UK Space Agency
What does your job involve?
Oversight and management of the core functions of the agency. These include financial planning and budget management, internal and external communications, international relations with other space agencies, developing government policy on civil space activity, legislative issues such as Outer Space Act licensing, and representing the UK at the ESA Administration and Finance Committee, and at ESA Council. A large part of my job involves meetings.
What interested you in working in the space sector?
It has been a long-standing ambition of mine to work in the space sector. I was fascinated by space from a very early age and enjoyed science and maths subjects at school. Having studied mathematics at university, I joined the civil service in the defence sector which stood me in good stead for the job I now do.
What do you do in a typical day?
There really is no typical day in this job. There are always the routine elements such as working through the very high volume of e-mails I receive which deal with a range of cross-agency and wider government issues.
It’s rare for me not to be involved in at least one meeting a day which will range from negotiating space programme budgets with other European nations at an ESA meeting in Paris; to agreeing government civil space policy with minsters and colleagues from across government in London; to working on agency governance issues.
At other times I will be preparing to visit a local school to talk to children about space, or rehearsing to give a presentation or media interview somewhere. It’s fair to say that the work is non-stop and I’m always learning.
Are there any other interesting aspects to your work
Visiting schools to talk about space is an enjoyable element of the job as is meeting colleagues both nationally and internationally who work in the space sector. It really is such a diverse range of people with extremely interesting backgrounds and I appreciate the opportunity to learn from them.
What is it about your job that fascinates or inspires you?
There are two things which stand out. First, space is an integral part of everyday life and it’s incredible to think of the number of satellites orbiting the planet providing services which we use every day. The research and development which has gone into making these satellites a reality is amazing.
Secondly, the sheer vastness of space is awe-inspiring. The pictures which space telescopes continue to transmit to us showing the origins of the Universe, distant galaxies, and our own Solar System are amazing.
Why is what you do important?
My directorate keeps the agency running as an executive agency by providing all the core functions necessary to operate. I’m lucky to work with knowledgeable and committed colleagues who know their subject areas very well and provide good advice.
On a wider scale, space is an important part of everyday lives (telecommunications and navigation systems for example). Space satellites have an important role to play in how we learn about our planet, and space is also providing answers to some of the most profound questions about the Universe. What we do at the UK Space Agency contributes to supporting all of these areas.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in space?
Study STEM subjects and learn as much as you can about the sector by reading and talking to people. Be prepared to follow a route which might not immediately lead you into the sector but provides relevant experience (such as my own background of learning about government and international organisations through joining the Ministry of Defence.)
Finally and most importantly, if this is your ambition then pursue it and never let anyone tell you that it’s an impossible dream!