Welcome back to my series on How to make a space mission! We’re finally at the end of this series. We’ve come a long way since the first part was posted way back in April. Hopefully by the time this blog post goes out, SpaceX will have achieved the second ever first stage reflight of their Falcon 9 rocket. This achievement underlines the point I made in the first post – that accessing space is cheaper and easier than ever, and will only get better with time.
Last time, we talked about how to get funding for a space mission. We finished with a short discussion on credibility. When writing the first blog post, I originally imagined I would be talking about the space engineering skills you would need to design a space mission. While gaining space engineering skills is important, I find that being able to demonstrate that you can get things done is even more crucial. Being able to get things done on the operations side is just as important as the technical side. This is why we’ll be discussing both sets of skills in this blog post under the context of how the reader can gain credibility in the space community.
But why do we care about credibility? Let me explain with an example.
When applying for a job, you’re trying to persuade someone that you will create more value for them than they expect to pay you as a salary. In other words, you’re asking them to trust you. If they trust that you can create this value, you’ll go to the next stage of the application process, and you’ll know that you have at least some credibility. For a job application, you’ll prove your credibility by listing your skills, the qualifications you have to prove that you have said skills, and any experience you have in applying your skills. If you want to create a space mission, you’ll need a certain level of credibility as well. And since no one expects you to be able to create an entire space mission with just a uni degree, experience is everything here.
So to do a space mission you need credibility. And to get credibility, you need experience. The question then is: how can you gain experience relevant to making a space mission? I’ve identified a couple of methods that should help. As it turns out, I’m doing all of them myself!
The advent of social media means that it is now easier than ever to publish your creations and see them distributed to thousands or millions of people. This represents an enormous opportunity to establish yourself as an expert, or at least as a credible person, in the field of your interest. Blogging, podcasting, and video blogging (vlogging) are all valid avenues for this. All you need to do is to find something sort of interesting, and talk about it. The key here isn’t to create the greatest post of all time and hope a million people view it, but rather to steadily create a stream of good content that will slowly see you gain followers over time.
An alternative for the more technically minded is to attempt to create journal papers and conference presentations. Both journal papers and conference presentations are fantastic ways of communicating with large communities of very credible researchers, and getting feedback on your ideas. While the idea of producing these can be intimidating, I find that it’s easier than one would think. For undergraduate students out there, search up the academics in your school and identify one or more that share your research interests. For UNSW students, I highly recommend approaching our Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research. All you have to do then is shoot them an email and see if they need help with anything, or if they’re willing to take on your own suggested topic. It was by working with ACSER while waiting on my graduation that I was able to produce 2 conference presentations at the Australian Space Research Conference. In turn, this gave me enough credibility that I was accepted into their PhD program, where I’m now figuring out how small spacecraft will navigate in deep space.
Not only will communicating with the general public slowly give you credibility, it will also help you develop your communication skills. I regularly hear companies bemoaning the state of graduates nowadays, who are very technically skilled, but unable to communicate what they know. You can gain a significant boost over your peers by practising your communication skills.
Run or build something
Gaining experience is a key step in gaining credibility, and the best way to gain this experience is to work on something of your own making. While experience working for projects belonging to others will be valuable, you will learn the most and the fastest from being responsible for a project from inception to completion. Ultimately, this is BLUEsat’s reason for existing. A few UNSW students wanted to learn how to put together a space mission, and they learned by going ahead and doing it.
Indeed, BLUEsat is now working on a framework for formalising this learning process. We have assembled a list of skills that a member of BLUEsat could theoretically gain during their time here, and have assigned members of BLUEsat to look after members of their respective disciplines. These discipline based groups are based around the Agile Tribes framework for structuring a company, and are thus called Chapters. Our goal is for members of BLUEsat to complete projects and then approach the Chapter Master of the relevant discipline. The Chapter Master will make a record that the BLUEsat member has completed their project, as well as a record of the skills they have gained. On graduation, the BLUEsat member will leave UNSW with a record of their accomplishments – a significant boost to their credibility for any employers they approach!
I highly recommend getting into 3D printing and hobby electronics. I recommend software such as Autodesk Fusion 360, which is free for students to use and easy to learn. UNSW students can make use of the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre, which provide free to use 3D printers and regular workshops on 3D printing and hobby electronics. Arduino and Raspberry Pi are excellent hobby electronics platforms for which significant resources are available to learn and build amazing products of professional quality. For non-engineers, just go out there and run something. Join a society, start a non-profit, sell watermelons, just go out there and get something going, even if you’re not confident you can do it. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll change.
Now, obviously I have an ulterior motive in telling you to run or build something. I want readers to join BLUEsat after all! But even if you’re not interested in BLUEsat, find some sort of problem you’d like to solve, no matter how small, and go out there and build some solutions! Even if you don’t succeed, you will have turned yourself into a more credible person for having tried.
That’s all for my series on How to build a space mission. Hopefully you’ve come out of this series with some new ideas for space, and some new ideas for yourself! Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you at BLUEsat. Remember, we meet on Saturdays between 10:30am and 5pm in room 419 of Electrical Engineering (G17) and we’d love to have you on board now that exams are finished.