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A Day in the Life of....

Nimal Navarathinam - Systems Engineer
Did you always want to work in Space Engineering?
I have always been interested in space exploration. However, while I was in high school I was also interested in medicine and was torn between becoming either a doctor or a space engineer. I was lucky enough to have had a work-experience year in a hospital. I learned a lot and enjoyed my time there but I realised that it wasn’t for me. I really wanted to build things and explore space! At the time, I was in a high school surrounded by other space enthusiasts. In fact, my school was named after the first Canadian Astronaut, Marc Garneau, who I had the opportunity to meet on a few occasions as he visited our school. I also got an opportunity to get involved in helping build a model of the Canadarm for exhibition. All of this helped push me towards a career in space which has literally taken me around the world!
What brought you to SSTL?
SSTL is a very unique place in the space industry. It is one of the few places that does a mission from beginning to end and within a short timeframe. A lot of the larger space companies often work on big flagship missions which can often take 10+ years to get from development to operations; whereas SSTL typically launch 1-2 satellites a year. This provides me with an opportunity to get involved in multiple missions and gain a lot of experience within a short time frame.
In addition, as a systems engineer it can be very difficult to get hands on involvement. In SSTL however, I found that a systems engineer is involved all the way from the design phase through to assembly, integration, testing, and even some operational phases.
What sort of work do you do at SSTL?
I am a systems engineer at SSTL. I often liaise with customers to understand their needs and generate requirements that then get flowed down to the specialist engineers. I oversee the design and planning of the project from a technical standpoint and work with a program manager to deliver a finished product. My job requires a very broad understanding of satellite engineering principles and the space environment in addition to effective planning and communication skills.
At the moment I am working on multiple projects that are in different phases of the mission cycle. One of my projects has just been launched into space and I am currently helping in the commissioning phase; meaning that I am helping the Operations team to get the spacecraft fully operational. Another one of my projects is still in the early design phase so I work closely with the other payload providers and customers in order to finalise the design of the spacecraft before we start building. Lastly, I am also involved in developing an education payload using the Raspberry Pi computer that will go to the International Space Station with ESA British Astronaut Tim Peake later this year. Tim will then run code written by school children from across the UK. The project, called Astro Pi, has just finished the second phase of competitions and winners have been selected.
How has your career progressed?
Once I finished my BASc and MSc in Canada, I worked as a technician testing satellite equipment and verifying they would survive the launch and space environments. I then went on to work at the European Space Agency (ESA)as a Young Graduate Trainee (YGT) which allowed me to learn a lot about the European space sector and also introduced me to SSTL with whom I had an opportunity to work with closely. Once my YGT contract was nearing an end at ESA, I felt that I wanted more involvement in the industry side of space sector where a lot of the hands-on building was occurring. This I felt was an important for me to gain early in my career. SSTL provided me with this opportunity.
Since I have been here, I have been a part of the mission concepts and systems teams. I have had an opportunity to be involved in two launched missions and even got to go to the launch site for one of them to integrate the spacecraft onto the rocket. My role has been quite varied over the years but has also been growing in terms or responsibility.
What’s the plan for the future?
I plan to finish the projects I am working on and can’t wait to get a few more missions under my belt. I am also interested in completing my P.Eng. certification, in addition to my Systems Engineering certification, as part of my professional development.