Changing Careers: Jordan Murray

Jordan Murray changed careers from the nuclear industry and is now a Satellite Propulsion Engineer at Airbus Defence and Space.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Jordan, I’m 32 years old, a self-confessed space nerd and I work at Airbus Defence and Space as a Satellite Propulsion Engineer. I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Manchester and Astronautics and Space Engineering at Cranfield University.

What does your role involve?

I am currently Propulsion Architect for Mars Sample Return Earth Return Orbiter; specifically, the Orbit Insertion Module which will essentially perform a key braking manoeuvre to slow the inbound spacecraft in order to enter into Mars Orbit.  At the moment all work is focussed on design; designing/analysing an optimum propulsion system, writing equipment specifications, selecting components and working with their respective suppliers, writing test plans, etc. As the project matures, the focus will shift towards assembly, integration and test, and eventually launch preparations in 2026. The role involves working alongside many technical disciplines and subject matter experts, as well as a multitude of international companies & agencies

What's your background and career path?

I actually came from the nuclear industry, specifically the uranium enrichment industry - I started off as a mechanical and process engineer at Enrichment Technology. This job took me all around Europe including a year in the US. I was very lucky in terms of always being seconded to really interesting projects, and I was one of the few engineers to actually design a system on paper and see it being built and put into production. I worked at Enrichment Technology for close to 7 years before deciding that I wanted a different career path.

In terms of where I want to go, I find propulsion a really interesting field and I have lots more to learn. Spacecraft propulsion is of particular interest, however, launcher propulsion is equally just as interesting, especially the complexities surrounding engine cycles and turbopump systems.

What did you do to go about changing career? 

I was seconded out in New Mexico, working at a uranium enrichment facility when I thought to myself: "what exactly do I want to do in life?". I started to look at part-time courses in Space Engineering and took a tour of Cranfield University when I was back in the UK. I had already racked up a high student debt due to four years at Manchester University for my undergraduate degree and I was unsure how I was going to fund another degree (MSc). So, I looked online and found that The Royal Aeronautical Society was offering sponsorships on behalf of the government. I applied and was lucky enough to be awarded full sponsorship. 

The next three years of study (part-time) were really hard work, working weekends, taking annual leave to revise for exams/work on my thesis... but it all paid off when I was offered a job at Airbus Defence and Space. A few people in my former work thought that it was a bit daring to try and change industry, especially as my life before was seen to most as being ‘pretty cushty’ with a well-paid job, good career prospects, etc. However, all I can say now is that I combine my work with my hobby and I am much happier as a result.

What resources, organisations, events, etc. were most useful to you?

I volunteered loads for the British Interplanetary Society who were great and allowed me to volunteer at lectures and even at the annual UK Space Conference, for which I took a week off work to attend. These experiences exposed me to the space industry and confirmed my future career path. Also, I have to mention The Royal Aeronautical Society - without which I would have really struggled to finance my part-time MSc.

How did you get your first job in the space sector? 

I applied directly on the Airbus website.

Why did you want to move to the space sector? When did you decide to try?

I was finding that I was bored at work. I was busy but I just didn’t enjoy it anymore and I used to really dread Mondays and just live for the weekend. When I had some time to myself out in New Mexico it became clear that I needed to change industry.

Did you feel like there was a job for you in the sector?

Yes - I loved my propulsion lectures at university and wanted to explore options in this area.

Were there any barriers you had to overcome? How did you overcome them?

Initially, the barrier was financial, but I was lucky to receive financial sponsorship from The Royal Aeronautical Society.

Was the style of your job applications in the space sector different from what you were used to? 

Prior to having the Airbus interview, I locked myself away for a couple of weekends and re-learnt my university propulsion module - and I thanked my lucky stars I did as I had some tricky technical questions in my interview.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I know it’s cliché... but every day is a new challenge and I’m always learning something new. The technical side is always really interesting, but equally as interesting are the relationships/interfaces with suppliers, satellite customers and government agencies.

Do you have any other advice for people wanting to make a similar change?

If you find yourself not really engaged with your work, think to yourself what is it that you really want to do? You work about a third of your life - make it worthwhile.

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