Welcome to the latest feature in our ‘Day in the life’ series with Ed Stevens, our Director of Space Systems.

Ed Stevens - Chief Engineer at In-Space Missions

When did you realise that you wanted to work in space, was there a lightbulb moment?

There was no lightbulb moment, it was an opportunity that came up at the end of University. Until then I was interested in technical subjects either hydro-electric or television broadcast. At the end of my time at the University of Plymouth one of my tutors had a contact at Matra Marconi Space in Portsmouth and it was suggested that I apply to join their training programme as a Radio Frequency (RF) test engineer, I was accepted on the programme and became hooked!

How did you work your way up to become a Director of In-Space?

I would say that it’s a combination of hard work, and the ability to work well with a range of different people across varied projects to address technical challenges and being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time which has led me to this point.

After about 18 months at Matra I saw an advert for a small satellite company in Guildford called Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and I applied and got the job in the RF department. There was a real change of pace compared to my previous role, it was challenging and fulfilling, my career developed along with the growth of the company.

As the company grew and changed I joined the Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) team which also looked after launch campaigns. I worked on launch interfacing and spacecraft build, test and verification. I found this to be interesting and varied role and I enjoyed working with engineers from all areas of the company. As I gained more experience I became Head of Mission Solutions and Innovation at SSTL and I managed the R&D activities. Over the years I worked closely with Doug and Tony and I was the 3rd member of the team here at In-Space Missions, I had the right skill set and it was time for a change and to be part of something new and exciting.

What does your job entail?

Keeping a perspective on the work and to keep going to find a solution when it is needed, my job is a mix of the strategic and implementation aspects of the company.

One of my main skills, which is vital to my role, is helping when there is a critical point that needs a solution. We work on demanding projects so it is important to keep a pragmatic approach and keep going when things are difficult, knowing when to give high level guidance and when to get involved in detailed problem solving. This philosophy has certainly helped me when we have reached this stage on a number of spacecraft delivery and launch campaigns.

Sometimes it does not feel like hard work when it is something you enjoy, I am grateful for being able to go to places and to see things that not many people get to do, for example seeing a number of different launch sites around the world and watching American and Russian launches go up has been a privilege and a highlight of my career.

Another aspect of my work that I really enjoy is being in contact with a global community, you meet people from different backgrounds and we all have a common interest of getting things into space and making spacecraft that work well. I have been fortunate to work with colleagues, customers and suppliers from all around the world. A highlight has been to glimpse other people’s cultures and to see the similarities we all have in this shared interest in space.

Launch campaigns are a key part of my work, it is the place where the different space companies who have often been competing against each other to win the same contracts all come together, by that time you have made the spacecraft and get to launch we all help each other and this side of things is heart-warming to see. This is what brings us together and gets us through internally at In-Space Missions, the teamwork, collaboration and support of each other inside the company is gratifying.

A mix of aptitude and a lot of experience and working with good people, people are the key to making this job work.

How do you interact with the team?

I try and make sure that people are supported with whatever is needed to get the job done. In some respects I am half technical policeman and half nurturing parent! Trying to make sure we have the right amount of resources, tools, training and processes to support the team and to grow the capability of the company. I work alongside the engineers regularly as I have the experience to help them. It is very much a team effort.

A large part of my job as part of the senior management team to see where we can improve, I have an overarching view of the company to make sure our decisions stack up and that the vision for the company is realised.

If you look back at your younger self would you have had a different career path?

I would have encouraged myself to go into space as it has been very rewarding for me.

What excites you most about your job?

So many aspects! The excitement around launch, the achievement of finding a solution to a problem, the people I work with day to day, the exciting work we are doing. All of this makes every aspect of this job exciting. I really enjoy being with the team, at times it does not feel like work even though we work hard and often long hours, we all pull together and the friendliness that was there when I joined and there were just three of us has not left and now there are over 30 people!

When not at work how do you spend your time?

I have two children and I very much enjoy spending time with my family and I enjoy spin classes, going to the gym and Karate.

Article  by In-Space Missions
Date: 9th September 2021