Sheffield gave me the breadth of understanding to pursue a career in the space industry

Adam Harris stood by a lagoon.
Adam Harris
Development Engineer, EnerSys ABSL Space Products
Aerospace Engineering MEng with a Year in Industry
2015
Adam now works at EnerSys, previously working on projects that have flown on the International Space Station. He's dealt with a range of customers including NASA and the European Space Agency.

What are your main responsibilities?

Research and development of lithium-ion battery technology for space applications.

Briefly outline any previous roles:

I am a Technical Manager and responsible for all technical aspects of numerous battery projects covering the whole life of a mission from support to the sales team through to final delivery to the customer.

This involves preparing technical datapacks for the various project gate reviews with customers as well as supporting the manufacturing and tests teams through the assembly and test phases.

It sounds like a varied role. Could you tell us what your typical day looks like?

The varied nature of the role is one of the best aspects of this kind of work. Balancing the technical challenges of 2-3 project simultaneously means no two days are exactly the same.

I could spend a couple of hours in the morning preparing a battery for a thermal vacuum test campaign, follow it up with a customer meeting to close out a review gate and finish the day performing a structural analysis of a new design.

One constant however, given that this is the space industry, is the amount of paperwork - all these activities need to be documented!

Why did you choose to study Aerospace Engineering at Sheffield?

I wanted a university who could offer world-class academics to share their knowledge and ways of teaching, which is precisely what I wanted a University that was known for academic excellence but also had strong connections to the industry through organisations such as the AMRC.

I was impressed by the Students' Union and the support it provided for the diverse range of extra-curricular activities.

How did your course prepare you for your current role?

My role requires expertise in mechanical, electrical and thermal engineering. The course provided me with the breadth of understanding in these areas and allows me to have technical discussions with experts from my organisations' customers such as the European Space Agency, NASA and Thales.

The basics of programming I learned on the course have enabled me to develop tools and software for analysis purposes.

Working in the space industry seems really exciting at the moment. How does it feel to be so closely connected to what's happening?

EnerSys ABSL is based in Oxford, which could be considered to be the heart of the UK space industry.

Being part of an organisation supplying products to a wide number of global customers means exposure to many different projects, teams and approaches from the biggest communication satellites through to small technology demonstrators.

It's stimulating to get this viewpoint on the industry and the miniaturisation of satellites and a change in attitude to risk are driving forward many interesting developments currently.

That is your greatest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement to date is being responsible for all technical aspects of a battery project that has flown onboard the International Space Station and is currently part of a science platform performing cutting edge experiments in low Earth orbit.

That's highly impressive! What contact did you have with the project and the International Space Station?

Unfortunately not a lot, although we get pizza from our bosses when one of our products is launched. Being a supplier of a subsystem component (albeit one of the most vital ones) means we don't get much involvement with the product once it's arrived at our customer's integration facility. I did manage to find a video of the particular satellite being dispensed from the ISS, it was extremely satisfying to know the hardware I had worked on was on board and working well!

What advice would you give to a student interested in studying Aerospace Engineering at Sheffield?

My advice would be to read around the subject and investigate the engineering industry in general. There are many great organisations, publications and articles out there that can give a solid understanding of how engineering businesses work. Chances are if you're considering engineering that you already have a solid grounding in maths and physics, but it's never harmful to pick up a relevant book.

Also, have a project. Something like a Raspberry Pi or Arduino starter kit can be purchased for £30 and can help develop software skills and an understanding of electronics and control systems. It's also just cool!

What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a similar career?

The space industry in the UK, especially upstream in the manufacturing of hardware, is relatively small, but it is set to grow massively over the next 10-15 years. To stand out, it's essential to be part of an extra-curricular group or society.

For me, the University Space Society (SpaceSoc) and UKSEDS (UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) helped provide me with a network of like-minded people as well as access to project ideas and funding to travel to workshops and conferences.

The only other advice is to try, try and try again. If you don't ask, you don't get. Keep an eye on the job market so you know what roles are out there.

Explore all postgraduate courses

A masters from Sheffield means in-depth knowledge, advanced skills and the confidence to achieve your ambitions.