Case Study: Sian Cleaver
“Going back [to the Moon] is going to be inspiring for a whole new cohort of people. A large proportion of the world will being seeing this for the first time and I hope that will inspire young people and do wonders for the world of engineering.”
An astronaut in the making
Sian grew up fascinated with the vastness of space: she even remembers a book about astronauts that was at her nursery! When she was five years old she had an opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Centre with her family, and from that day onwards her mind was set on becoming an astronaut. She joined an astronomy club in school, built and launched rockets in the local park: all of her education journey was shaped around her ambition of one day becoming an astronaut.
“Because I always wanted to be an astronaut and was interested in space, that end goal shaped my career. I did certain GCSEs and A-Levels (physics, maths), I chose certain hobbies.”
Sian hasn’t achieved her dream job yet, but for her it’s all about the journey:
“Whether I achieve that or not [being an astronaut] it allowed me to carve a really, really interesting career and I feel really lucky that I’m doing the thing that I am doing purely because of a decision that I made when I was 5 years old.”
Sian is a spacecraft engineer at Airbus working on the Orion Programme: part of a series of missions which will return humans to the moon.
She is currently working on the support module, which is the bit of the spacecraft just behind the capsule where the astronauts live and work. The support module is a critical part of the vessel, as it provides water, oxygen and power… and propels the spacecraft to the moon. It is powered by four solar panels.
Sian has to be organised and logical at work because part of her job is to manage a list with every single step that is required to put the module together. It’s a bit like the instruction booklet that comes with a Lego set, but Sian’s list tracks 20,000 pieces and 12 kilometres of different-colour wires that needs to be put together in a very specific order, all inside a compact cylinder.
“I think it’s beautiful! It takes my breath away how complex it is, but how beautiful it is at the same time!”
Sian is also responsible for ensuring all the equipment going inside the module arrives on site at the right time so that her team can build it in the correct order. If there is something wrong with an individual part it needs get resolved so it doesn’t compromise the rest of the assembly.
Beyond the Moon… Mars!
Going back to the Moon is a stepping stone to the next stage of space exploration: Mars. The Orion Programme plan is to build a space station around the Moon. Once infrastructure is up and running – perhaps even using resources from the Moon – then future Orion missions could go from the Moon onwards to Mars. That’s something Sian hopes to see in her lifetime.
“There is a generation of people who weren’t alive at the time of the Moon landings. Going back is going to be inspiring for a whole new cohort of people. A large proportion of the world will be seeing this for the first time, and I hope that will inspire young people and do wonders for the world of engineering.”
That said, Sian also believes that the time has come for a more diverse group of people to have the chance to experience the Moon and contribute towards the development of space technology:
“Now is the time for women to go to the Moon. It’s time for Europeans to go to the Moon. It’s time for a whole diverse crowd of people to start accessing the Moon and opening up to the whole world!”
The power of languages
Sian learned Russian at secondary school. She thought the language was super cool and linked well with her love of space.
“When I was younger, I was very dismissive of languages. I wanted to be a scientist, I wanted to do physics and really didn’t think I needed languages. But now, I’m like: of course you need languages! The more languages you know in Europe the more opportunities it opens up for your career!”
Working in the space industry often requires a global collaboration between many countries such as Europe, Russia, USA, UAE – all sharing knowledge, working together for a common goal. Sian really enjoys this side of her job, as it makes her open-minded to others from different backgrounds.
“You learn about food, culture and jokes in other languages, it’s really fun. It adds a whole new dimension to the office having people from different nationalities and cultures.”
Outside of work
When she’s not building her way to space, Sian enjoys gliding and scuba diving. She says Scuba diving transports you to another world, and is the closest experience on Earth to being in space!
logical, open-minded, organised
A-Levels, Degree, Physics
Employer: Airbus defence and space
Airbus is based in Europe and are world leaders in the aerospace sector. Their work ranges from commercial flights to defence and space. They design, produce and deliver innovative solutions to create a more connected, safer and more prosperous world. Airbus are currently pushing the boundaries of technology and working towards a cleaner future of aviation through developing unmanned vehicles and electric propulsion systems for aircraft.
Airbus is based in Europe and are world leaders in the aerospace sector. Their work ranges from commercial flights to defence and space. They design, produce and deliver innovative solutions to create a more connected, safer and more prosperous world.
Airbus are currently pushing the boundaries of technology and working towards a cleaner future of aviation through developing unmanned vehicles and electric propulsion systems for aircraft.
The range of applications of technology and knowledge at Airbus defence and space requires a lot of different STEM, and non-STEM, based roles.
Among the different roles at Airbus defence and space are:
- Mechanical Engineers
- Electrical and Electronic Engineers
- Software Engineers
- Aerospace Engineers
- Sales Engineers
- Health & Safety Advisers
- Quality Systems Engineer
- PR and Communications Officers
- Test Technicians and Assistants
Being the largest aeronautics and space company in Europe, Airbus is an extremely global company, so there is a large amount of opportunities to travel.
You can see what current vacancies Airbus have here.
Topics in Science and Maths that link to Airbus defence and space and what the company does:
Case Study: Sophie Robinson
“One of the good things about engineering is that there are a lot of opportunities where you can use your skillset to make a difference, and make a difference in lots of different fields as well!”
Sophie grew up in a working class family from a mining village in the North of England. As a child, she remembers wanted to be an astronaut and being fascinated with Lego (she claims to have had the equivalent of her body weight in Lego!) and Meccano. Her parents encouraged her to go to university: they saw it as a good route to a professional job. Sophie recalls:
“When I was young I was always really into maths and science. I would have done a pure maths degree but there was something always nagging in the back of my mind […] I always wanted something more practical.”
With this combination of academic interests and practicality, she thinks engineering became an “inevitable” career path.
After she finished a PhD in flight mechanics from the University of Liverpool, Sophie got involved in many projects as an aerospace engineer. It’s a job she describes as being involved in the whole lifecycle of anything that flies: design, certification, operation, maintenance and safe disposal (decommissioning).
Sophie’s currently a senior flight dynamics engineer at Vertical Aerospace, a company working on creating the world’s first commercial eVTOL aircraft – electric vertical take-off and landing. It’s planned as an air taxi, to transport people and goods on short journeys.
Vertical’s aircraft will be 100% electric, affordable, and could help ease road traffic in densely populated areas.
“All of the technologies to make this kind vehicle happen exist, we are not conjuring things out of thin air that don’t exist at the moment. It’s all about bringing those technologies together into a package to make it happen.”
A lifetime achievement
In her current role Sophie is responsible for the simulator that will train pilots to fly the aircraft: she needs to be creative and logical. She also studies the performance of the air taxi, in particular how manipulating the controls translates into aircraft motion. The air taxi will be a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for Sophie and her colleagues, so she tells us that hard work is essential.
“Why did I become an engineer in first place? Because I wanted to be involved in projects like this, it’s completely innovative! That is human nature, we always want to find the next step, the next new thing. How can we put together the different technologies we’ve developed?”
Nothing great is easy
Outside of work. Sophie enjoys travel and particularly swimming. In 2012 she swam the English Channel, inspired by the first person to do so, Captain Webb, who said, “Nothing great is easy”. She has his quote as a tattoo.
“I am a mermaid when I’m not an engineer!”
She often colours her hair a different colour as this makes people notice and remember her. She says it‘s a good conversation starter!
Employer: Vertical Aerospace
Vertical Aerospace are a manufacturing company based in the UK, dedicated to designing and building vertical take off and landing aircraft that are electric-powered and hence zero emission in use.
Over the next few years the company aims to launch a flying taxi service: they aim to be the first zero-emission aircraft most people fly on. Between skyscrapers in New York, perhaps – their partners include American Airlines, Rolls-Royce, Microsoft, and aircraft leasing business Avalon. They hope their vehicles will be affordable, and they they’ll ease road traffic in densely populated areas. Similar vehicles might be used to help in disaster relief situations, transporting medicines, food or casualties.
To design, develop and make aircraft requires a lot of different STEM, and non-STEM based roles. Vertical Aerospace employ:
- Aerodynamics engineers
- Quality engineers
- IT administrative coordinators
- Battery test technicians
- Aeroacoustic engineers
- Technology Services Managers
- IT solutions architects
Although based in the Bristol, Vertical Aerospace is a global company, so there could be opportunities to travel.
You can see what current vacancies are available at Vertical Aerospace here.
Topics in Science and Maths that link to Vertical Aerospace:
- Moments of inertia
- Gravitational fields
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