Ben Boyes, deputy engineering manager for the ExoMars Rover Vehicle Project, Earth Observation, Navigation & Science Space Systems at Airbus, is working on shaping the Mars Rover Project, a robotic vehicle that will be used to gather information on the red planet. He says there is “nothing quite like it,” and that the problems they are trying to solve are based on a whole different set of parameters. “The hardware you build is going up into the space, to different planets; to places no man-made item, let alone person, has ever been, so you are really pushing the boundaries of exploration. It is incredibly motivating,” he says.
Boyes, like other young engineers we have interviewed, says his generation has “an impatience, a restlessness” to get things done quicker in the space industry. “There is not this perception that you have a single career for life. For example, new graduates are more interested in combining engineering with management, and have higher — perhaps sometimes unrealistic even — career expectations,” he adds. “I also think that industries with projects that last 10 to 15 years are on the way out. I think we are certainly seeing this within the space industry; we are seeing an evolution away from the long, time-consuming, expensive-running, and complicated institutional projects and moving to more agile, commercial and quicker projects in terms of time.”
However, more needs to be done to attract young talent to the space industry. Boyes himself is part a U.K. government campaign called “Your Life” to turn around the perception of 14 to 16 year olds, especially girls, from shying away from key STEM subjects like Math and Physics, because they think they limit their careers rather than give them extra opportunities. Boyes says this is a grassroots problem, and that there is a perception that engineering isn’t a professional career, driven by a number of misunderstandings on what the term engineering means. “All of these barriers are impacting not just the satellite companies but all tech companies, including the Googles,” he says.
But Boyes is optimistic and believes things are changing for the better, although he concedes that the United Kingdom could be doing more. “Nobody realizes that we build 25 percent of the world’s telecoms satellites here, or that we are involved in so many space/science missions with the European Space Agency, and collaborate regularly with NASA. I think there it is definitely an awareness issue, but it is improving a lot,” he says. “Ten years ago, when I joined the company and said I worked at Astrium, very few people had heard of it. During the recent economic downturn, the U.K. space industry has kept on growing, and all of a sudden the government is talking about it in the U.K. budget and suddenly space is much more current, and people are getting that awareness. So, things are improving significantly. But, it is still something that needs to be worked on by government and industry.” VS