Welcome to the latest feature in our ‘Day in the life’ series with Michael Loweth our Engineering Resource Manager.

Michael Loweth - Engineering Resource Manager - In-Space Missions

What did you study at school and University?

I took physics, maths and business studies at A level, this combined with being an active member of the Venture Scouts piqued the interest of Kingston University when I applied for their Aerospace Hons. Engineering degree. I was delighted to be offered a place at Kingston as it was the best rated new university for Aerospace Engineering at that time.

When did you get interested in space and why?

I have always been interested in Space. As a child I enjoyed playing with Space Lego but never considered Space as a career path until I got to the end of my degree. I had to take a couple of years out for medical reasons after my degree so during this period I worked part time at university and kept active with my network of good friends. When I had recovered I could see that I was going to be competing for work with people who were more current than I was so I went on take my masters. I began to think about what sort of career I would like to do. My brother was restoring historic spitfires to fly at this time and loved his job. There was an element of competition so I felt few Aircraft industry careers would compete, so it got me thinking about what sort of career I could have that was just as exciting. I then realised that I had been very successful and very much enjoyed the Space segment of my degree so I decided to peruse this area of interest (although I assumed I would have to work outside of the UK). I then applied to Cranfield and to the International Space University (ISU) in France. I was accepted for both but I wanted to be in the International environment where there would be lots of networking and a broad spectrum of experiences so I chose to go to the ISU. While I was there I was fortunate enough to have a placement at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, In the laboratory for Extra-terrestrial Physics, which gave me an opportunity I wouldn’t have even hoped for when I first applied for this course.

The competition with my brother is quite neutral now, we both work in industries with great kudos and respect and we are both proud of each other, mission accomplished!

How did you become a technical project manager?

My first job was with the ISU organising summer schools around the world which was exciting. I then worked for the MOD helping to keep the army air corps helicopters flying, it was a logistics role for the maintenance team making sure everyone had the right tools and equipment to do their job. This taught me a lot about the military world which I thoroughly enjoyed before joining ABSL Space Products where I learnt to design and make batteries for the space industry (with Mechanical, Thermal and Electrical engineering elements).

I was with ABSL for 11 years and worked my way up during this time becoming a senior technical engineer and also a project and business development manager. There were lots of opportunities while I was there and I reached a point where I helped to train up the junior engineers and project Managers, as well as going to some universities to give a lecture on space power.

It was then time for a change so I joined Oxford Space Systems where they specialised in deployable structures and antennas. This was a paradigm shift from “old Space” to “new Space” and it was an exciting company to work for. I then had a brief stint during the first part of the pandemic with an SME based in Tokyo but working remotely from the UK before joining ISML where I joined as a Project and Bid Manager.

What are the key skills that you need to do your job?

I need an understanding of the engineering challenges, and an understanding of the people I have to work with to plan out how we meet the engineering requirements. I need the ability to talk with our customers to understand their needs and then to ensure that we deliver against the original scope and not to overreach.

How do you like to start and end the week?

“Productively!

I try to be organised and so I like to start the week by checking that I did not miss anything at the end of the previous week or over the weekend. Then I try and look ahead to the rest of the week to see what my major challenges will be. To end the week I like to prepare for Monday so that I can hit the road running.

Is there a particular work highlight?

All the projects I work on are exciting, just being in the space sector is exhilarating. You often don’t realise how exciting the jobs are until you look back and see what you were a part of. We can be our own worst enemy as engineers and only concentrate on the engineering issue in front of us and easily forget how exciting the whole project really is.

How do you see your role expanding and developing?

I have recently taken on a new role as Engineering Resource Manager where I try to use my experience and skill set to help manage our engineering resources and to make sure that different projects have as much engineering support as they need.

Are there any projects you have worked on that you are particularly proud of that have benefited life on earth?

I have worked on a range of projects in the solar system and earth that make me feel very proud to have been a part of something that makes a difference to us back on earth, it is very moving when you stop and think about it. I was a Technical Manager responsible for components on ESA’s GAIA, BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter interplanetary missions as well as helping to design elements for the original ESA Sentinel satellites (Copernicus) Earth Observation programme, monitoring the earth and reading the health of the planet.

It was recently announced that we will be working on a project called Treeview, led by the Open University. This is a project very much in line with the efforts of COP26 and could form part of how the UK will try to better our environmental impact in the future. If successful this satellite will classify and monitor trees from space across the UK, with a view to assessing the impacts of management, climate, pests, and disease on these essential assets, and the effects this has on our environment. Missions like this help to inspire me because if you can provide a service or monitor something like your tree health from space for the UK, then you are likely to be able to do this around the planet. This capability can quickly be exported around the world to other countries, including poorer nations, so that they can benefit from these amazing capabilities. This democratisation reassures me that it is not just the first nations looking after themselves, we are able to operate on a global basis and to be magnanimous about the use of our skills, sharing our knowledge and capabilities around the world.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My main hobby now is flying, I have my private pilot’s licence, and my second hobby is coxing rowing boats. I am still associated with Kingston rowing club in London and I am currently a cox with Oxford Academicals Rowing Club in Oxford.

Article  by In-Space Missions
Date: 13th April 2022