Welcome to the latest feature in our ‘Day in the life’ series with Nimal Navarathinam – Principal Space Systems Engineer.
When did you know that your career would be in space?
”I was initially drawn to a path in medicine but also always had a strong interest in space from an early age. This interest was reinforced at the high school level when I attended an enrichment programme for mathematics and sciences in Canada. The school was named after the country’s first astronaut, Marc Garneau, who frequently visited us along with other astronauts. Being able to meet such Canadian pioneers was very inspirational. My physics teacher at my high school also played a pivotal role in guiding me towards a career in space. He was an avid space enthusiast and had built an observatory in his backyard with a large telescope far north of Toronto where he took the whole class for astronomy lessons. Seeing the planets with clarity through the telescope was amazing and inspiring.
The high school also had close relations with MDA Ltd, a Canadian space technology company that was working on the Canadarm at the time (the robotic arm that sat on the shuttle and the International Space Station.) The model of the Canadarm was brought into the school to showcase to the students. We were also allowed to assist in building parts of that model before it toured across the country.
After completing my master’s degree at York University in Canada, I had the chance to join the International Space University on the Space Studies Programme in Spain. It naturally led me onto the ESA graduate training scheme. These experiences opened my eyes to the opportunities within the space industry in Europe.
What does your job entail?
”My role as a Principal Space Systems Engineer is quite varied. I work on designing space systems for missions and development roadmaps to make sure the products on offer can meet the market needs. I also help train and mentor engineers by providing support in reviews, bouncing ideas off of them, and sharing my experience from previous missions.
I am also happy to roll my sleeves up and help in the lab when needed, drawing on my experience to work on the hardware integration, testing, and coding while also being aware of the bigger picture regarding the programme’s goals and ambitions.
Currently, I am working on the next stage of the avionics development for the Faraday Service and Faraday Digital. I have used the experience that I gained from Faraday-1 to help the Faraday Phoenix team to launch successfully.
Further, I have been helping with some of the bid work using my Faraday-1 experience and my understanding of the next stage of avionics being developed at ISM. This helps provide a deeper level of knowledge to the bid process.
When I started at In-Space Missions there were only 4 people in the company. Today there are over 30. When I joined, we all had to help wherever it was needed to get the job done. As the company continues expanding, my experience is being shared across the team and allows me to work on the system design and architectural work for the future.
What is your favourite part of the job?
”Being able to work on a project from the bid stage all the way to launch and operations in such a short time is one of the best parts of the job for me. Detecting the first signal from the spacecraft in orbit you helped build is such an amazing feeling.
What is your biggest responsibility?
”At the moment, I am responsible for delivering the ESA Pioneer development programme for the next generation of the Faraday Service from ISM. Secondly, I am passing on the knowledge that I have gained form the Faraday programme as I help train our newest engineering recruits as they become more familiar with our processes on the engineering side.
How do you like to spend your time away from work?
”I love to visit new cities around the UK and Europe. I also enjoy reconnecting with family and friends back in Canada and Sri Lanka where my parents are originally from. One of the perks of the job in the past has been going to launch sites. I was lucky enough to go to India to be involved in a launch campaign.
I enjoy going to the gym, hiking, reading, and am also an avid gamer. My gaming hobby has been useful during the operations phase of a mission as it made me quick and nimble with the mouse and the keyboard! However, now that I have two young boys, I love spending more time playing with them and seeing them grow.
Article by In-Space Missions
Date: 27th September 2021