Weald of Kent Grammar School, Kent, then University of Surrey
10.5 GCSEs (Triple Science, DT, Art, French, German, English Lang and Lit, Maths, and half qualification in RE). A levels in French, Maths, DT and Physics
I did a one year placement at Surrey Satellite Technology then got a graduate job at Airbus Defence and Space and stayed here ever since!
Locomotion Subsystem Manager on the Sample Fetch Rover
Airbus Defence and Space Ltd
I love making things! I live with my husband, my cat Rusty and my 1 year old baby son.
I started working on the Rover a very long time ago, (2012) as a lead structure design engineer. That meant I was leading the team of design engineers to design the actual body of the rover. My team had people like computer modelling, strength analysis, materials and test specialists in it.
The rover takes a very long time (about 5 years) to go from a concept design, through a series of materials and smaller scale tests, to the first full build of the rover (which isn’t the one that goes to Mars, this first build is used for lots of different tests to make sure the whole thing works together as designed) and then the final (flight) build of the rover. In the concept design phase my team was just me and 4 other people, but in the test phase I was in charge of 25 people!
Once the structure of the rover was fully designed I could have moved to a different project and designed the structure for that – but I wanted to stay on the rover project. That meant I needed a different job, so then I moved to being in charge of the company that manufactured the structure (which was good as I was able to make sure they understood our design properly and that they built it all correctly). At the same time I was also responsible for the first full (test) build of the rover, so not just the structure but also things like the equipment, power systems, and everything else that goes into the rover. The testing for that rover happened in Toulouse in France in 2018, so I spent about 8 weeks out there over the summer making sure the test ran correctly, and that everything worked as planned.
I then had three months off work to have my baby son, then came back to work in April 2019 and helped with the planning for the testing on the flight rover, which is just finishing off at the moment.
Now I’m moving onto a new rover mission – the sample return rover. I am going to be in charge of one of the major subsystems on this rover, which are things like the locomotion subsystem (all the mechanical bits that make the rover drive, like wheels, suspension, motors etc) or the robot arm (which will be used to pick up the samples and put them into the sample holding rack on the rover.) I’m not sure which I will be doing yet as we are still finalising the concept design ready for a review in February – once that is done and we have passed we will decide who does exactly which bits when we kick off the teams to do the full design, test, and build which will be starting in April/May.
My Typical Day: I drop my son off at nursery and then get into work some time between 8 and 9. The first job of the day is to make a cup of tea to drink while I read emails! I spend most of my day at my computer or in meetings with my team mates. I have lunch with my friends, and normally go home some time between 4 and 5.
I don’t really have a typical day! Sometimes I travel to go and see the teams manufacturing parts of the rover for us, but when I’m in the office I get to work some time between 8 and 9, and normally deal with emails while I drink a mug of tea while my brain is kicking in (I’m not a morning person).
We have quite a lot of meetings to discuss and decide on different parts of the rover design, sometimes in person with the teams based in Airbus, and sometimes by videoconference with teams working in other companies or countries.
As I am in charge of my part of the rover design, (for the ExoMars Rover I was in charge of the structure, but now I am working on the sample fetch rover) the people in my team send me the test results or analysis they have worked on, and I have to decide what that means for our design, whether it is ok to go ahead with the current design or if their new information means we need to make changes. If we have to change things I communicate to my team what new work they need to do, and my ideas on how we could change the design to meet the new requirements, and then we will decide together which is the best solution.
I always try to have lunch with my friends either in the work canteen, or sometimes we walk into the town centre if it’s a nice day.
I spend time between meetings writing reports, looking at the results of tests or analysis that has been done, planning new tests or trying to think of different ways to solve any problems we’re having, and communicating to my team either by email or with a powerpoint presentation whether we need to change our design and if so how it needs to change because of the latest test information.
When I get the time I like to do outreach for schools or universities, and I sometimes even get asked to talk about my work in interviews for newspapers or on tv!
Lead Engineer for the Structure Design on the first European Mars Rover
I currently lead a team of specialist engineers designing the structure – the body – of ExoMars – the first European Mars rover. I picked it up 3 years ago as a concept design, and had to develop the basic design into something that meets all the details and requirements of the full mission to Mars, and also can be made! To do this we have to brainstorm a lot of design solutions to tricky problems, test out the best ones to develop them, and then finalise a design that best meets all of our requirements. I also do a lot of schools and public outreach – talking about Engineering, and the UK Space Industry (which is huge and growing yet no-one knows it exists), and in particular the ExoMars mission, to anyone who will listen! :o)
My Typical Day: Coming up with design ideas for tricky details, talking to my team of experts, arranging tests, overseeing manufacture
I’m in charge of a team of specialists, who each focus on a specific area of the structure design, like the 3D computer modeling, the materials, the strength analysis, manufacture, and so on. I have to come up with the concept design, make sure it meets all of their needs and requirements, and if not, develop the idea with them into something that they are happy with. When that’s done we have to demonstrate that it will work with computer analysis or real-life testing, and if it doesn’t, we try again til it’s perfect. Then we freeze the design and send it to the manufacturing company, and I oversee their manufacture and answer any technical questions or issues they have, and make sure it’s all going to plan.
What I'd do with the money
Buy loads of 3D glasses for my presentations so that I can include the 3D experience of Mars that we made in all my schools talks
Last year we made a really cool interactive 3D experience for occulus rift, where you land on Mars, and go bouncing over the surface, and find our rover there, sciencing. Then you can take the rover apart and look inside and see how it’s been designed and what goes where, and learn all about it. Anyway it’s pretty cool but it only works for the person with the £1000 occulus rift headset on. And I’m not allowed to borrow that for some reason… Anyway, I want to convert that experience into standard 3D that you can watch with 3D glasses, so that I can play it when I go out and do school talks, and I can take everyone on a magical mystery tour of Mars and our rover, which would be much cooler than just powerpoint slides. But then I need money to buy the glasses…
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Not very tall
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Designed stuff that is now in space, orbiting the Earth! (Sensible answer) Also hula-hooped on the wing of a Concorde. (Less sensible answer) And drove a Mars Rover at two heads of state when I wasn’t sure if it was going to stop. (Pretty stupid but they asked me to – it’s a long story) And got a private tour of NASA (Epic) And went on Stargazing live with Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain and Brian May from Queen. (Terrifying) Loads of things have been great, really!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
Teachers at school suggested engineering, and I saw stuff on the news about a British led Mars mission, which I thought looked cool!
What was your favourite subject at school?
Design Technology or Art
What did you want to be after you left school?
Anything that let me draw, design and create things for a living.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Rarely- I was pretty shy. I used to get told off for always asking when I was EVER going to use certain Maths things in real life. Turns out- loads. Ooops.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Something else creative- maybe Product Designer or Architect?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I'm not very cool. I think my favourite singer atm is Taylor Swift! I also love Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20 and Something Corporate- but they were old when I was at school so they’re even older now!
What's your favourite food?
I make a mean Chocolate Brownie, does that count?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Bought an ex post van, converted it to a camper and drove around 24.5 European countries with my boyfriend in my 4 month summer holiday from Uni!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Happiness and Health for me and my family and an interesting challenge every day at work!
Tell us a joke.
Three kittens are on a sloping roof- which one slides off first? The one with the lowest Mew.