Federico Giusto, AMRAeS M.Eng. Space Systems Engineer working on the world’s first commercial lunar landing

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My name is Federico Giusto and since 2019 I am a space systems engineer at ispace inc.’s European office in Luxembourg City. The company, headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, is a deep space exploration startup working on the world’s first commercial lunar program and currently designing, building, and testing a suite of robotic landers and mobile rovers for prospection and exploration of the Moon. We have contracted launches on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and will carry both static and dynamic customer instruments to the Lunar surface on board our technology. As a dual-national Italian and Luxembourgish engineer I had the opportunity to pursue higher education in the United Kingdom, more specifically at Loughborough University where I graduated with a First-class Honours Masters degree in Aeronautical Engineering. I defended a First-class thesis on novel machine learning frameworks for remote sensing precision agriculture using satellites and drones, and a First-class group project for designing, manufacturing, and flying a humanitarian relief aircraft. Together with my academics I also began learning Russian, joined the DJ society and Track and Field team, mentored younger students from my department, and achieved the Employability Award for my extracurricular experiences.

Alongside the outstanding education and quality experiences I gained at University, I was lucky enough to secure a placement year in industry at GE Aviation Systems in Cheltenham between the third and final years of my degree. I interned in the Avionics & Controls division and supported both commercial and military projects including the F-35 JSF RIO, B777X (for which I contributed to its first flight!), and B787 in the areas of hardware verification and validation, software integration and testing, and process optimisation and project management. Moreover, I represented GE at University careers fairs, STEM events in local secondary schools, and global competitions such as the General Electric Open Innovation Challenge 2017 where my team placed first out of dozens of entries from around the world. Following this experience I was pleased to learn that the University had awarded me with the Enterprise Award for the student who demonstrated the highest-value industry experience and highest engineering contributions to their company. I highly recommend all undergraduate students to consider a placement year, as the direct-to-industry experience is invaluable and quite different from the academic responsibilities and routines you become accustomed to during your degree. My time at GE definitely opened my eyes and prepared me for the technical challenges and problem-solving acumen of future roles in engineering, as well as teaching me key soft skills in leadership, communications and team-working that support my daily work with the team.

I dedicated much of my time throughout higher education to international work experiences including my internships at SES Satellites (one of the world’s leading broadband communications providers with over 70 satellites in orbit), and Amazon Robotics, where I contributed to the design, prototype, and launch of novel mechatronics machines in the EU-wide supply chain in the field of vision systems and autonomous vehicles. Furthermore, I joined the Royal Aeronautical Society whilst still at University as a Student Affiliate and worked my way up to Associate Member and Interim Chartered Engineer in 2020.  Since joining half a decade ago, I have had the pleasure to attend several lectures and events organised by the society on and off campus, network with other community members and industry leaders, and keep up with the latest in aviation and space thanks to their monthly publications and website. I continue to work towards my next goals of reaching Member status and a Chartered Engineer accreditation. I recommend anyone – undergraduate or industry professional – who is interested in the fields to join the society and reap its benefits!

Federico Giusto, AMRAeS M.Eng. Space Systems Engineer working on the world’s first commercial lunar landing

What life is like working in a particular role and typical day

Life in a space startup is what you might think, dynamic and highly demanding! Though the space industry may be renowned for its slow and costly approach, New Space companies such as SpaceX, RocketLab, and ispace are working hard to change the stigma and promote a faster, cost-aware, and ambitious commercial environment. Though risks may be higher, achieving reliable technical and programmatic KPIs is promoted and this mindset resonates with all actors in this nascent sector, including myself.

As a systems engineer my role is to gather several inputs from the subsystem experts of our technical products – including but not limited to the thermal, mechanical, and navigation engineering disciplines –, and advise the best overall solution that meets all objectives, complies to project-level and technical requirements, and is flexible enough to accommodate a varying suite of customer payloads. On a daily basis I often coordinate configuration management and change activities, consult with the relevant stakeholders (from customers to managers and engineers) in order to track baseline deltas and asses their impacts to flow down to the relevant field. I also employ and maintain collaborative tools for performing requirements management, functional analysis and system decomposition activities.

What are the key skills required?

The reason why I opted for a post-graduate career in systems engineering and a placement year in the same field is the wide base of skills one must possess and develop to master this role. As a systems engineer, you never stop learning and you always have to listen and process information, which is a big stimulus for me. Several figures of varying levels of authority will approach you with requests in various ways (some less friendly or understanding than others), but you must always apply critical thinking and an engineering mindset to trade off all the inputs and define the best path forward. This is quite challenging, and no one is ever perfect at it as there are many variables to control that cannot be interpreted as 0 or 1, but it should always drive you on a personal and professional level and resonate with your desire for continuous improvement.

A systems engineer should take the lead in technical conversations by demonstrating a deep knowledge of the discipline; though it may not be required to perform detailed thermal analysis or mechanical simulations, it is expected that the systems engineer will know enough about the topic to reach credible and data-driven conclusions to be reported to its stakeholders and move the task forward. Last but not least, the experiences collected in this role promote team collaboration and process optimisation fundamentals, thereby fostering the system engineer into future leadership positions in the field. Whether you seek to be a chief or lead engineer, technical project or program manager, or team leader, systems engineering experience gives you the value added of combining both human interaction skills and technical credibility to your foundation, thus preparing you for larger requirements, larger goals in larger teams and ultimately higher responsibilities, so leverage it at all costs!

What is the most exciting/challenging part of the role?

Working at ispace is not just an opportunity to be part of history; equally exciting to flying to, landing and operating your robot on the Moon are the daily interactions I engage in with my peers, experts from industry, space agencies and stakeholders working with us on our missions. At my young age it is a perfect time to learn every day, grow my skills, and network in rooms that are ‘out of my league’, because that is the only way I can improve and progress towards my ambitions. I encourage all readers to pursue a role that inspires the same positive reaction and in which they can see the added value every day. The New Space industry is growing fast with big milestones happening every day and very exciting work being pursued; as a lifelong fan of space exploration and space flight I am thrilled and honoured to be a part of this new era.

Any advice to give new entrants into the sector?

As you fulfil your degree requirement and step into the professional world, I recommend that you always have a vision and work hard towards it. Have patience and listen to your mentors and leaders, assess your surroundings and weigh the situations, demonstrate your integrity in tough settings to grow your respect and reputation, and step up when an opportunity arises without being afraid to fail. I wish for you to find and inspire a positive and supportive environment where you will be able to voice your opinion and challenge the status quo.

On a more practical note, I strongly suggest engaging in work experiences and/or internship at the earliest convenience, as it will mature your thinking and give you an edge over the competition when applying for full time roles. Also, enrolling in online classes to learn new languages and further your technical expertise, demonstrating leadership and team collaboration foundations, and growing your digital profile and networking presence (in the right way!) is highly appreciated by hiring managers and will be invaluable assets in your career, so I advise that you integrate some of those in your to-do list.

I had the opportunity to speak more about some of these tips on career growth and professional development in the past; you can find the interview at this link. Also, I am present on LinkedIn at in/federicogiusto and I am happy to engage in direct conversation so feel free to reach out!

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