Joe Martin

BSc Physics, 2018
Space Systems Engineer, Airbus Defence and Space

I work as a Systems Engineer in the Future Programmes Group of Airbus’ Space Division – this is the team in charge of developing early spacecraft concepts as part of bids or studies to customers such as the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency.

The day-to-day work is heavily dependent on the current project and can vary from testing out orbit designs, engaging with other companies to see what they can offer or writing up proposals for a bid. In particular, the role of a systems engineer is to manage and maintain the top-level spacecraft design, which requires an understanding of all elements of a spacecraft mission and being able to frequently liaise with the technical experts for each sub-system.

What is the best thing about what you are doing now?

I’ve recently had the opportunity to lead as a bid manager for some smaller opportunities. This has been providing me with great exposure to all elements of the bid process, the wider company and to customers. Seeing the concept go from an initial brainstorm of ideas to a fully-fledged proposal in just a matter of a few weeks is a hectic but rewarding process.

joe martin

What made you interested in your current role?

Working in the space sector has been something I’ve been set on for the last few years, but that wasn’t always the case. I actually used to train intensively in contemporary dance and was on the pathway towards a professional dance career. The summer before applications, I had the opportunity to attend the European Space Camp in Norway, which featured lectures from leading space scientists and culminated in the launch of a sounding rocket. It was this unique experience that really set my heart on pursuing space as a career, with the promise I would keep up dance as a hobby. It’s also an exciting time to get into the space sector right now. There has been a recent wave of innovation from reusable rocket launchers (SpaceX) to mass-produced small satellite technology (OneWeb Satellites). This has helped to reduce the cost of access to space which has seen a rapid growth of new smaller companies providing satellite equipment and services, especially in the UK.

How has your career developed since graduating from the University of Birmingham?

After Birmingham, I went on to study an MSc in Space Systems Engineering at the University of Southampton. The course provided me with a really solid understanding to the domain and helped me land my current job at Airbus. I was also able to present my MSc thesis work at the International Electric Propulsion Conference 2019 in Vienna, which was a great conclusion to my time in academia. I then entered the Graduate Development Programme at Airbus, which has supported my transition to employment in a large company. I was fortunate to be placed in an up-and-coming and innovative team with a manager who places a lot of trust in me. As a result, I have been able to pitch in my own concepts and take key roles on projects and bids.

We Are (Third Width)

What motivates you?

I place a lot of importance on my friendships and social life, and so one of my primary motivators is to be located somewhere close to my main friend base, in a role with a work-life balance where I can be enriched by both success at work and socialising outside of it. Working at Airbus meant that I was able to return to living in London so it suits me perfectly right now. Looking forwards, I am strongly motivated to have a positive impact on the direction of travel of the space sector. This new era of space commercialisation has certainly brought about innovation but there is danger that if left unchecked, private industry will be able to exploit space without restraint. I aim to work towards a position of influence within the UK sector such that I can advocate for space to be explored in a sustainable way that ultimately puts people before profit.

Why did you originally apply to Birmingham?

My sister actually studied at UoB seven years before me, and I became awed by the whole university experience from a young age when I used to go up and stay with her over weekends. When it came to my own time to apply, Birmingham seemed to best tick all my boxes: a proper campus university in a large city, a top Physics department and an exciting social scene. Initially, my sister was not too happy with the idea of me copying her student experience, but she eventually came round when it meant she had an excuse to revisit the campus and Selly Oak.

What are your fondest memories of the University?

Too many to choose from! My first year as a fresher on the Vale was a blast, especially given the nature of the inter-block comradery that happened at Tennis Courts. One standout memory from University was evading campus security whilst myself and a few friends wheeled round a shopping trolley with a portable DJ station and speakers on top around campus to advertise the student night we had set up! Another great feature of my years at Birmingham was the Strictly Come Dancing watch-parties we hosted every weekend at our flat during which we would be pretty unforgiving critics. I also have a strange fondness for the months of revision sessions leading up to exams – a big group of us from Physics would revise together in the Med School Library each day. Whilst the grind was fairly grim during finals, we were in it together and would entertain ourselves with games and a daily dose of HQ Trivia (I’m pretty sure all the medics hated us though!).

Did you get involved in any extracurricular activities as a student?

A huge part of my university experience was the Poynting Physical Society (PPS); the departmental society for physicists. I initially missed out on a place in halls and so didn’t get the chance to form an immediate friendship group. As a result, I decided to rock up in my second week to PPS’s AGM to join the committee as a way to branch out and meet fellow physicists. It turned out that decision would define my university experience! I got immersed with the society, became Secretary the following year and eventually went on to be President. My most memorable PPS moments have to be performing a series of ten iconic dance routines during one of PPS’s wacky quizzes as well as hosting a Spring Ball in the Great Hall that was attended by over 380 staff and students. I also had a radio show called ‘Gingers Have Soul!’ on Burn FM which was a great escape from the stress of university (though I think only my Mum tuned in!). Outside of university, I organised a student club night in Digbeth called FUZE with a group of friends which provided some of my own best nights out from my time at Birmingham.

How did your time at University help you start your career? What was your biggest influence?

The group project I did with the Radar Group at Birmingham, and the focus on gravitational wave astronomy within the Astrophysics Group both proved to be key talking points during my job interview due to their relevance to instruments used in space (i.e the LISA Mission). I was also always supported by great staff within Physics who take a real interest in the future careers of their students. I am especially indebted to the Head of School at the time Martin Freer who put me forward for the Michael Sheppard Award at graduation, which helped to massively boost my CV.

What advice would you give to current students studying on your degree programme?

If you enjoy PPS’ events, don’t hesitate to get involved with the committee! Also, I would strongly recommend forming a group to revise together with as being able to trade answers and discuss exam problems is a really effective way to improve your own understanding and better prepare yourself.

Joe's key space advice

“It takes a very diverse team to get something to space on-cost, on quality and on time. As such, there’s lots of roles for subjects other than engineering such as data analytics and finance. Even if haven’t studied space, you can definitely get involved!”