Peter Steele - Physics (2016)

MSc Astronautics and Space Engineering student, Cranfield University
(MSci Physics 2016)

The MSc course I am currently studying at Cranfield is specifically designed to provide graduates for the space industry. Intake is a mixed bag of physics, maths and engineering students and the course allows specialisation in all aspects of space system design, from ion engines to trajectory design. I chose to specialise as a Systems Engineer, which is a technical project management role incorporating early-stage spacecraft design and later in projects, overseeing all the other subsystems to ensure they all work together.

How has your career developed since graduating?
Around halfway through my time at Birmingham I decided that the space industry was where I wanted my career to end up, and in an ideal case I'd work at Airbus Defence and Space on scientific missions. I applied to their grad scheme last year, and didn't quite make it - but I decided to double down rather than accept defeat, so I found my current course at Cranfield. This has allowed me to expand my previous theoretical knowledge of astrophysics into the sphere of practical application. Last month I succeeded at my second interview at Airbus, and I'll start there in September, working on the design of future scientific missions!

What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
I'm in the final stages of design for a large group project at the moment. I'm coordinating a 15 person team which has been tasked with designing a theoretical scientific mission to the Main Asteroid Belt. On pretty much a daily basis someone comes to me with a big problem ('We haven't got enough fuel!' or 'Our engines are going to freeze!' or 'My telescope needs to be twice as heavy as I thought before!') and I love the satisfaction of getting around the issue; even if it's a bit stressful at the time!

What motivates you?
I love having new problems to solve in new and interesting ways. It's a fantastic feeling when you're able to reason through a solution that works, and when it doesn't - hey, you've still learned something and it makes it more likely you'll be able to solve it next time.

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?
So many reasons! The course was both very highly ranked and precisely what I wanted, with a nice set of astrophysics options but still a strong experimental core. The lecturers seemed like they really loved what they were doing, and the campus was gorgeous!

What are your fondest memories of the University?
PPS Balls and the trips to Coniston were big highlights and a great chance to get to know people in your department outside your own lecture groups. Societies were great too – if a society at uni is offering the chance to do something you think you might want to try, do it because you'll make friends doing it and it'll never be as cheap again! Oh - and you're going to love the graduation ceremony.

How did you grow as a person by coming to University?
I'm one of those people who was very introverted and withdrawn at school. University let me meet new people and try new things, and it really brought me out of my shell. I feel much more confidant as a person and I know what I can and can't do, which is something I consider really important.

What did you think of the learning experience within the University?
I really appreciated the breadth of astrophysics modules available, they've given me a solid understanding of space physics which is fantastically useful for me, because my customers in my future job are going to be almost exclusively scientists wanting to observe either Earth, other bodies in the Solar System, or space on a larger scale. Having the scientific background to understand what data they want, how to get it and how they want to use it is an extremely useful thing.

What inspired you most during your time as a student?
A good lecturer can make any topic interesting. As mentioned above, Birmingham has loads of absolutely fantastic lecturers who really did inspire me to push myself as far as I could.

What advice would you give to current students?
If you're lucky enough to have a dream career, and it doesn't quite work out at the first attempt – step back, work out why not, fix it and try again!

I think university is the time when you finally become who you are as a person, and make friendships that last longest. Enjoy it!