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Cornwall's Space & Aerospace Sector

If you’re interested in the Space & Aerospace sector, read this article to learn more about how to get a role in the industry, the skills you might need and how we can help you! There is a short interview with Dave from Spaceport Cornwall as well as Ian Jones, CEO of Goonhilly Earth Station. Both give their insights into what it takes to get into the industry, their favourite parts and how to break down the barriers to entry.

The UK is investing significantly in its space sector over the next decade and Cornwall wants to be a big part of this.

The UK Space Industry
is already worth £11.8 billion and has been growing by an average of 8.6% year-on-year since 2010. It now directly employs 37,000 people and is estimated to support over 115,000 jobs in total. Direct employment has grown strongly at an annual rate of 8.4% in the last five years.

There is demand for a large number of technical skills in the industry but also a demand for soft skills, particularly around collaborative working, commercial awareness, sales and marketing, proposal writing, mentoring and teaching.
There is a skills gap where the growth of the industry has meant it’s been difficult to keep up with the necessary skills needed. UK Space Sector Skills Survey 2020

What do we have in Cornwall?

The upcoming Spaceport and launcher project is estimated to generate £180 million and 500 jobs by 2030.

Goonhilly Earth Station

“The UK’s Space Communications Gateway, and a recognised centre of excellence in Communications Engineering,Teleport Services, R&D, Manufacturing, Training, Outreach and Education”

Cornwall Airport & Spaceport, Newquay

“Spaceport Cornwall is located at Cornwall Airport Newquay, an active civilian airport with passenger flights around the UK and Europe. It will be one of the only places in the world where you can be on a passenger airplane and look out your window to see a launch to space about to happen.”

The Aerohub Enterprise Zone

“The best location in Europe for Aerospace Business”

The South West Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications

The South West Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications is based in Cornwall with the University of Exeter as the lead delivery partner. The centre partnership also includes Falmouth University and the University of Plymouth. Specific research in highly relevant satellite application areas includes: eHealth & eWellbeing, Marine & Maritime, Mining and Natural Capital.

We’ve had a chat with Dave Pollard, from Spaceport Cornwall, on how to get into the Space Sector. 

Picture of Dave Pollard

Dave is the Education and Outreach Officer for Spaceport Cornwall. Spaceport Cornwall will be the first place in Europe to launch a satellite and rocket into space when their partnership with Virgin Orbit ‘lifts off’ this summer.

Dave is passionate about using this momentum from first launch to engage young people into STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), by using space as a hook. In the US when the Apollo missions took place they saw a huge increase of students studying STEAM subjects right up to Doctorate level. Spaceport Cornwall are hoping to have a similar effect on people in the UK.

Furthermore, Spaceport Cornwall aims to be the catalyst for developing a space cluster in the county by encouraging other space sector businesses to develop here. Encouraging organic growth and using the excitement around first launch to start conversations with some of the largest space sector organisations.

At present Spaceport Cornwall are developing two buildings which will be part of the new Space Technologies(CST). The CST will be home to a Space Operations Centre, which will bring academia, small businesses and large businesses together in one place. It will offer businesses year-round office, laboratory, and R&D workspace in a collaborative environment where cutting edge ideas can be developed and shared.

Hi Dave, how did you get into your role?
Before this role, I was working for the Careers Hub, linking businesses to education. My main passion is developing something for Cornwall and creating opportunities for people to aspire to. We want to hook people into STEAM using space and the excitement around launch.

There are so many opportunities within the sector. It’s not all about being an astronaut, Tim Peake was one of 8,000 applicants for his role. We want to get people into the space sector through a variety of ways, there are so many meaningful roles.

What does your role involve?
I work with primary school aged children up to university. We predominately work with students in Cornwall, but have also carried out a number of national programmes. We also host a number of resources online for anyone to access. Part of my role involves working with the Universities and Colleges to make sure that courses are starting to be provided and the other part is about inspiring students to work towards studying those subjects.

What’s our favourite thing about your job?
The variety and autonomy of my role! It is great to be able to have ideas, run them past my manager and then act on those ideas. One recent idea is to create a Virtual Reality experience of first launch. We are now working with Falmouth University to create that experience, which is exciting!

Image of virgin orbit outside spaceport Cornwall

What’s been the biggest challenges, if any, during Covid-19?

Doing everything virtually has been a challenge but it’s meant we have managed to reach many more people with information about what we do. We have sent out curriculum booklets, run virtual work experience and talks with 1000s of students, organised Hackathons and competitions. However, in-person events have a certain richness to them that can be lost a little when done virtually.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in working in the space sector but has no prior experience?
None of us at Spaceport have a background in Space but we have drive and passion and that’s something we look out for in applications for our job roles.

– Passion for space is beneficial and passion for the organisation that you are applying to.

– Look at free online courses – for example, MOOCs

– Network! There are lots of free events happening.

– Interact with businesses and people at those businesses on social media.

– If you are at university look at the UK Space Agency Space Placements In Industry (SPIN) programme for real life experience within the sector.

– Try and have a rough idea of what you want to achieve, but be flexible enough to understand that is may change as you develop you knowledge and awareness of all of the opportunities out there.

Thanks, Dave!

We’ve been busy here at People Hub, as we’ve also had the opportunity to talk to Ian Jones, CEO of Goonhilly Earth Station.

Ian Jones in front of Goonhilly Satellites

Ian Jones is an electronics engineer and entrepreneur who founded Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd. The company began trading in 2011 when a deal to lease the antennas from BT was agreed. At the time, there were just 3 employees. Their first contract was a project to help command a satellite worth half a billion dollars. In 2014 the embryonic Goonhilly team achieved their first investment round enabling the purchase of the Goonhilly site. The company has expanded, and with a second investment round in 2018 has become the world’s first privately-owned commercial deep space communications station. Now, with nearly 50 employees, Goonhilly is expanding to Australia and the US.

Goonhilly is an organisation that supports its employees at every stage of their career. From apprenticeships, graduate and post-graduate roles to offering career transitions for ex-military personnel, and those who are wanting to switch sector; Goonhilly promotes a diverse range of backgrounds and appreciates transferable skills.

Hi Ian, can you tell us what your career has looked like so far and what got you into space?

Being a child of the apollo era, one of my earliest memories was being woken up in the middle of the night to see Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. It was hugely inspiring but felt like it was something that only Americans did. However, throughout my childhood I remained interested in space, science and engineering.

I studied Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Leeds University where one of my professors was a leading expert on Soviet Union GPS satellites. I decided to take his course on satellite systems, really enjoyed it and so focussed my final year project on this area. My first job after university was at BT Research Labs, and because of my degree work, I was assigned to the satellite communications group.

What’s a normal day for you?

There isn’t one, and for most people here, there isn’t a normal day; it’s one of the joys of being in this industry. Days can be incredibly bizarre, from having primary school children on site, to discussing the commercial and technical aspects of providing comms for missions to the Moon and Mars with organisations such as NASA or ESA. There is also a lot of work involved in developing the business and moving it forward. To operate successfully in this role I need a balance of technical and people skills. It’s a highly technical field, and no one person can be expected to know all aspects of the business, so we employ people with a range of skills and we balance the workload amongst the team.

One thing we’ve learned to explain when showing students around Goonhilly is that you don’t need to know everything – teamwork is critical and each person can play to their own personal strength whilst relying on the support of colleagues when needed. it’s great when you can see the lightbulb moment where they start to understand some of the processes.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

Variety and the people; being able to rely on colleagues and seeing them progress in their roles and learn to apply skills as we’ve grown as a company. It can be hard as an entrepreneur in small company to let go of control, but as we get bigger it’s important to get our staff to take responsibility for helping to grow the company. Sometimes it amounts to giving them permission to make their own decisions on behalf of the company. We want to keep empowering people which ultimately makes for a happier working environment.

It’s interesting in the aerospace sector, because by nature, there seem to be either very large companies or SMEs, but often no middle ground. In the large organisations, you might get to work on some amazing projects but work is quite rigidly defined and generally someone else is in charge! Whereas, in a small organisation there is much more autonomy, it’s not just a ‘do as you’re told’ environment. Everyone needs to “muck in” and help with a variety of different tasks. I find this more rewarding when you’re a part of the whole growth of the business.

What have been the biggest challenges, if any, during Covid-19?

We have been one of the industries that is exempt from working from home and so we had just over half our workforce in the office. But we still wanted to comply as much as possible so we asked those members of staff that didn’t need to be in the office to work from home. This was, at times, difficult as splitting the teams like that could lead to resentment when people are forced to be treated differently because of the extraordinary external circumstances – the grass is always greener! However, it generally worked exceptionally well.

We had a smooth transition to working online using MS Teams. We had already started our migration to MS Teams before the pandemic even started because we were trying to find a better platform for internal communications than just using email. Covid just accelerated that. However, those working from home were put under pressure with non-stop meetings. While in many ways it was easier to contact people via Teams, conferences are still a more effective way of getting to understand customers’ real needs.

It was hard having the back-to-back meetings and especially when faced with school closures and home teaching. We got to see parts of each other’s lives that we normally would never see. It was a humanising experience and one that brought people together. For me, it also highlighted the importance of having an office to go to which is separate from home life where I could concentrate on my work.

However, it was a smooth transition onto Teams. Before the pandemic, I was already fed up with the countless emails I was receiving every day, being copied into everything, and so, I looked for an alternative way of communication. I came across Teams and so it was a seamless move.. However, those working from home were put under pressure with non-stop meetings. While in some ways it was easier to contact people via Teams, conferences were more effective with getting people together.

It was hard having the back-to-back meetings and especially when faced with school closures and home teaching. We got to see parts of each other’s lives that we normally would never see. It was a humanising experience and one that brought people together. For me, it also highlighted the importance of having an office to go to which is separate from home life where I could concentrate on my work.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in working in the space sector but has no prior experience?

Do something about it.

There are lots of entry level opportunities depending on your academic level. If you’re interested, take the initiative to find out as much as you can about the subject. Employers are always impressed with people who have a genuine interest in the subject. There are different space education programmes out there. People’s perception of space is generally limited to rockets, satellites and astronauts, but if you break it down, there are lots of components that need to be thought about. Be proactive in your learning – show that you’re willing. As well as scientists and engineers, the industry needs accountants, HR personnel, mechanical technicians, marketing professionals, business development managers and so many more professions, the list goes on! It’s not just about being a rocket scientist.

Most businesses have the same challenges – running a business is about having a product and buying and selling stuff. You’ve got to make more money than you spend and account for it. You might have projects to complete, orders to win and products or services to deliver. There are so many transferrable skills, a whole raft of them. The skill in building a business is finding the way to differentiate your own services from other similar people’s businesses.

So don’t limit yourself to purely science or engineering – although these are clearly key skills – just aim to be really good at your chosen subject. Space industry jobs are demanding – but they’re also well paid and you get to work in some great places with great people.

When will you be restarting your professional training courses in Space and Communication?
It’s in the background, we’re gearing up to start them again. We also have lots of links to various different universities. This summer we will also restart our Year 10 & 12 Summer School.

Satellites at Goonhilly
Goonhilly Earth Station on a sunny day


Thank you, Ian!

What can People Hub do?

We’re here to help you find out what it is you’d like to pursue! We can provide advice, guidance and also funding towards training! Get in touch with us and we can get the ball rolling.

We can’t wait to hear from you!