Interview

Harriet Brettle

Business Analyst at Astroscale


Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Harriet Brettle, I’m currently a business analyst at Astroscale, working to develop a commercial solution to the threat of space debris. I studied maths at the University of Warwick and then worked in finance for four years. After deciding that a career in banking wasn’t for me, I followed my passion for space to the California Institute of Technology where I completed a masters in planetary science. I moved back to the UK at the end of last year to work at Astroscale which is where I am now! 

What does your role involve?

As a business analyst, my job is to figure out how we turn our mission (to clear space debris and create a sustainable space environment) into a viable commercial business. That means identifying potential customers and building a convincing argument as to why they should pay for debris removal services. Such end-of-life services are fundamental to satellite operators to ensure the operational service of satellite constellations, limit collision avoidance maneuvers and mitigate collision events. I also work closely with our engineering team to make sure that the business strategy lines up with the missions we are developing. 

How did you get your job? Was it easy?

My journey into the space industry was somewhat non-traditional… 

Before I started Astroscale I was studying planetary science but before that I worked in a bank! When I graduated university, I had no idea what I wanted to do and ended up spending four years working in finance. However, I had always loved space so I decided to leave finance and threw myself into a whole host of space organisations, from volunteering with the Planetary Society to becoming an active member of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). It was actually through SGAC that I was able to attend two conference in Germany in 2018, the Space Generation Congress and the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). It was at these events I met the team at Astroscale and learned about the business role I’m now in. 

Luckily, my job at Astroscale allows me to combine my financial background with my passion for working in the space industry. The transition from finance to the space industry was challenging – I spent a year working full time at the Bank whilst studying astrophysics part time in the evenings at Queen Mary University of London and volunteering with multiple space non-profits. I was scared about leaving my safe career in finance behind, struggled with major imposter syndrome about not having the ‘right’ academic background and had no idea where this new path might take me. But I’m so glad I took the leap and haven’t looked back since! 

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I find Astroscale's mission - to ensure space sustainability - very inspiring and motivating. The work we are doing here has meaning and we are taking proactive action to ensure that space can be used for years to come. I also love the challenge of the work we do here: both the engineering and the business case are really tough challenges to solve. But it's important work and everyone in the company is working together to rise up to this challenge!

What is the most challenging part of your role?

There is so much to learn! Without an aerospace/engineering background it’s been a steep learning curve getting to grips with the technical side of the business. But if you’re not learning you’re not growing and I’m grateful to be able to work with such a talented team who have helped me get up to speed.

Where do you want to be in 5/10 years?

My personal mission is to connect and empower the future space economy. I want to be a driving force for the UK space industry; I’m not exactly sure what that looks like right now but I’m confident I’m heading in the right direction. My advice for anyone searching for their path is to define your personal mission. Find what it is that drives you and, most important of all, don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

When did you become interested in space/the space industry?

I'd always loved space and astronomy - I grew up reading science fiction and was inspired by Carl Sagan - but I naively thought that it could only be a hobby, not a real job. I had assumed that the space industry was just for astronauts, rocket scientists and engineers, and none of those roles really appealed to me. 

I graduated with a Maths degree and immediately got a job in finance, but I always kept this little career notebook where I wrote down things that I wanted to achieve. At the bottom of the list there was always this line: Go and work for a space agency. It seemed completely out of reach as I couldn’t see the link between what I was doing and where I wanted to be. 

I started a part time post-grad certificate in astrophysics which I could attend through evening classes. During that time, I went to an astronomy conference and realised that my finance skills were transferable. That gave me the confidence I needed to apply for graduate school in the US and start my career in space. 

How did you decide which aspect of the space industry to work in?

Basically, I had no idea what I wanted to do so I just tried everything. I studied astrophysics and planetary science but realised that a life in research wasn’t for me. I did science outreach, wrote about space entrepreneurship for Astropreneurs, and developed strategic partnerships for SGAC. I found volunteering through these organisations incredibly rewarding and it also helped me decide what I wanted to do.

One thing I regularly do is look at the careers of mentors and role models in the space industry and ask myself, what I would need to do to get there. Do I need a masters or PhD? Do I need management experience? How would I get the technical expertise required? I plan out the roadmap of what it would take for me to get there and then assess if that is what I want and whether I would enjoy the journey. There’s never going to be one person whose entire career you can follow exactly, but it’s helpful to look at what aspects might work for you. 

What advice would you give to people looking for a job in your industry?

Put yourself out there and go for it! Organisations like UKSEDS and SGAC are a great way to gain experience and build your network in the space industry. Don’t be afraid to forge your own path; the job you end up in might not even exist yet. When I graduated from university, Astroscale had only just been founded! 

Also, it’s ok to change your mind; don’t feel trapped in one role because you found yourself there. I left finance to do a PhD in planetary science. After the first year I realised that although I loved the subject, a PhD wasn’t the right choice for me and I’d rather dive straight into a space industry job. As a result, I left the PhD program with a masters and came back to the UK. Each course correction helps you converge on your ideal job and there’s always things to learn along the way. 

Final piece of advice: work hard and get known for doing a good job in whatever it is you are doing. 

What's your favourite... 

Hobby? 

Swimming, cycling and running. I also love reading science fiction!

TV show?

The Expanse and Altered Carbon

Book?

Contact by Carl Sagan 

Quote?

‘The harder you work, the luckier you get'

Anything else?

I love Travelling. Since joining the space industry I’ve been lucky enough to travel to the US to study and speak at conferences in Abu Dhabi, Germany, and the US. 

What is the most exciting space thing you’ve seen or heard about? 

Going back to my planetary science roots… I’m so excited by the upcoming missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Europa is, in my completely unbiased opinion, one of the most incredible places in our solar system. It’s the size of our own moon but contains twice as much water as there is on Earth under its icy crust. It might be our best bet for finding life elsewhere in the solar system and I can’t wait for the Europa Clipper (NASA) and JUICE (ESA) missions to tell us more. 

If you were a member of UKSEDS, how did it benefit your career? 

I wish I had been a member of UKSEDS, maybe then I would have wound up working in the space industry much sooner! I didn’t really discover the space industry as a career option until after I graduated university. 

Author

Jacob Smith

Jacob studies MSc Astronautics and Space Engineering at Cranfield University

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