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A day in the life of an SSTL Lab apprentice

When Liam North completed his GCSEs he had no idea that just a couple of years later he’d be lined up to become Lab Manager at the world’s leading small satellite company.
Liam was the first person that SSTL enrolled on its training programme back in 2009. He balances work in the Lab with college one day a week in Portsmouth. We caught up with Liam to ask what it’s really like to work at SSTL.

Soldering a Printed Circuit Board
Did you always want to work in electrical engineering?

“Actually no, one of my GCSEs was in Drama so this was a bit of a change for me! Engineering hadn’t occurred as a career choice until my sister suggested it. I applied for the SSTL trainee place and started in August 2009. I’ve always enjoyed practical, hands on stuff (before this I worked as a baker and enjoyed Design Technology at GCSE) so electrical engineering turned out to be a good fit. Engineering is about solving problems, so you don’t have to necessarily be a whizz at science to train as an engineer.”

What sort of work do you do at SSTL?

“At first I was just learning the ropes but now I work in the Lab in the Kepler building (SSTL’s new technical facility). It’s a little like working in the flight assembly cleanrooms but here in the lab we do mostly testing instead of flight work. Testing is so important– everything needs to be tested rigorously to ensure success –including heritage missions. My day usually involves a lot of soldering, working on PCB boards, harnesses (wiring looms) and test cables. Sometimes I do flight work too – working on the parts which will actually end of up the satellite in orbit. My favourite project was working on the patch antennas for the exactView-1 satellite which is now operating in orbit. I’ve also been working on connectors and test boxes for the smartphone based satellite, STRaND-1, that SSTL is building with the University of Surrey and that’s been great fun.”

Working on spacecraft harness – the cables that connect the modules
And what about training?

“As part of my contract, I go to college one day a week in Portsmouth. I completed my B Tech Level 2 in Electrical Engineering in 2011 and am currently working on my B Tech Level 3. SSTL has been really great about training me up. As well as paying for my qualifications (and even my petrol to get to college!) SSTL has also provided lots of in-house education as part of the training programme. I spent a lot of time completing AIT (Assembly, Integration and Test) training on practice boards with Andy and Paul from the Flight Assembly team. My line manager Peter and Lab Manager George have also been a massive help, always there to answer my questions and lend a hand.”

What’s the plan for the future?

“Definitely finishing my B Tech Level 3.  I’m also hoping to do a European Space Agency soldering training course next year. One day I'll be taking over from George as Lab Manager when he retires; a massive step for me and one that would have never been possible without all the support I’ve got from SSTL.”

(L-R) Lab apprentices Scott Bodman, Chris Summers and Liam North
Following the success of Liam’s placement, SSTL has just enrolled two more Lab apprentices on our training programme, and we are recruiting 4 - 5 more Trainees across the Engineering & Production Departments in 2013. 

We’re proud to be contributing to the expansion of the UK space industry by investing in the next generation on space engineers.

See Careers for our current vacancies.  





01 February 20130 Comments1 Comment

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