Rocket scientist surges into dream career in South Australia’s space sector
As a young boy James dreamt of being an astronaut and his fascination with space has led to an exciting career as a rocket scientist. James recently made the move to South Australia’s thriving space sector where his career has taken off – and he’s now driving some of the most cutting-edge space innovations in the state.
James works as a mechanical and thermal engineer for South Australian space company Neumann Space, which is one of only a few companies in the world developing electric propulsion systems for satellites and spacecraft.
Just over two years into his role, James is helping drive the development of new space inventions, including the company’s revolutionary ion thruster, which will be on-board the SpIRIT nanosatellite, due to be launched into space early next year.
The SpIRIT mission is a collaborative venture led by the University of Melbourne between researchers across Australia, the Italian Space Agency and industry partners, including Neumann Space, Sitael Australia, Inovor Technologies, and Nova Systems. SpIRIT received funding from the Australian Space Agency International Space Investment – Expand Capability grant program for its construction and launch in space.
Incorporating innovative Australian-made technology and hardware, SpIRIT will be the first spacecraft built in Australia to host a foreign space agency’s scientific instrument as its main payload – and James is proud to be part of the iconic space project.
“It’s so exciting being involved in such a phenomenal space project,” he said.
“Since starting at Neumann Space, we’ve taken the Neumann DriveTM (propulsion system) from its R&D phase to test phase to prove that it can provide thrust. I have designed the mechanical aspects for our first system that’s going to fly, and we’ve just completed final tests on our first two flight models.
“I love that I get to be part of something pretty amazing. Being able to see the design come to life, from start to finish, and go to space is pretty incredible.”
James holds a double degree in science and engineering from Monash University and despite forging a successful career in the space sector, it was a childhood ambition that seemed beyond reach growing up.
“I knew I wanted to do engineering, I knew I liked astrophysics and science, but I never really considered a career in space. It wasn’t clear to me that having a job in space was something you could do in Australia – until I went to uni.”
After attending the AYAA (Australian Youth Aerospace Association) Aerospace Futures conference while at university, James knew he wanted to be a part of Australia’s space industry.
“That (conference) really shaped where I was going and after that everything I did was in the pursuit of a job in space,” he said.
During university, James completed a six-month internship at the German Aerospace Centre’s (DLR), Institute of Combustion Technology at Lampoldshausen, in Germany, where he worked with a small team to analyse instabilities inside combustion chambers for rocket engines.
Fresh out of university, James said it was a logical decision to move from Victoria to South Australia to kick start his career in the state’s space industry, which is home more than 100 space organisations and a thriving research and entrepreneurial community.
“I was excited to move to South Australia. I always expected to leave home to work in space and I knew that Adelaide was the place to be,” he said.
“I get excited about working in the space industry because putting something into space is so difficult. I love the idea of the challenge, that it requires a huge amount of work from so many talented people in a variety of fields all working together to make a project come to fruition.”
“It brings me a lot of satisfaction to be a part of the Australian space industry and it motivates me to work hard on the challenge.”
As the industry grows, new opportunities are being created for young talent here in South Australia and James’ advice for others interested in pursuing a career in the space sector is to follow your passions.
“It obviously helps to have space experience, but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work in the space sector, you need passion and to be good at something and usually, with hard work, those things come together,” he said.
Careers in the space industry are so much more than astronauts and rocket scientists. Visit SASIC career stories to read more stories about the pathways other South Australian professionals have taken to launch their careers in space.