How did you get into your job?
I did my PhD at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics of the University of Manchester and was working on developing low noise amplifiers for the Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The Millimetre Wave Technology Group from RAL Space, was also working on this project, so that's how I initially met some of the RAL Space team. A role then became available within the group and it was suggested that I apply.
What is your role?
I am working as a system engineer on the receiver development programme for the MetOp Second Generation (MetOp-SG) weather monitoring mission. Some of my responsibilities include the optimisation of the millimetre-wave low noise amplifiers and the modelling and definition of the intermediate frequency processing units within all the flight front-end receivers. I'm also doing the receiver end-to-end modelling and supporting the system lead on the final performance assessment to ensure our flight technology complies with the customer specifications that we have agreed to deliver. If someone wants to know more about this technology, I recently wrote a paper detailing our work on the Engineering Qualification Model for the Microwave Sounder instrument front-end receivers on MetOp-SG.
Why is your role important?
All the roles in our team are important. My specific role contributes towards a common goal of delivering state-of-the-art performance from our instrumentation. My expertise is in front-end heterodyne receivers and low noise amplifiers. The amplifiers are a critical component that ultimately determine many of the performance properties of the final instrument. The receiver technology that we develop is used in atmospheric sounding satellites, Earth observation instrumentation and also for ground based astronomical instruments.
What's the best thing about your job?
I think it's the ultimate goal of any radio frequency engineer to work on large and important projects like MetOp-SG. I like the fact that my job is science-orientated and not purely commercial. Our group is pretty much unique in Europe and we have state-of-the-art design, fabrication and testing capabilities on site. I feel lucky to be part of it.
What do you value about working for RAL Space?
I value multiple things. First of all, I value the type of work that we do - being part of top scientific missions like MetOp-SG. I appreciate the facilities I have access to thanks to working here. But I'm also quite proud of the values that the organization has been showing - especially in this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. People have been told to work from home as much as they can. Our management have put people first and that policy is something to be applauded.
What advice would you give to people looking for a job in your industry?
I think something that happens when people finish their degree is that they apply to things kind of randomly because it's a bit tricky to get the right role at your first attempt. Many people end up getting something that doesn't completely fulfil them, but they continue on with that career path anyway because it's the first opportunity they had… and the more experience they get in it the more difficult it is to change afterwards. If you really want to do something, I would encourage people to really go for it. Be specific – know what you want and hold out for it.
Also, at RAL Space there are placements. So every year we get we get a student in our group. Over the last two years we've had undergraduate placement students who have done a fabulous job. They get this fantastic opportunity of working hands-on in a real project and they learn a lot. Then if they want to come back when they finish their degree they are in a much stronger position than other people who we don't know. So this is definitely something to look at in fields that are as specific as the one we're working in - it's worth trying to gain some experience early on in your career if you can.
Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self now?
Well, I am Spanish and I really wanted to try the experience of living abroad, so I did this after working one year in industry when I finished my master's degree. Now that I'm here and I've been to university in this country, I've seen people that come to the UK at the age of 18 to their undergraduate degrees, not the PhD, but the undergrads! So, at the age of 18 they have the maturity to decide they want to live in another country and they just go by themselves and do it! And to me that's mind blowing because, when I was a teenager I didn't even know that such opportunities were there! So although I am very happy with the path that I have followed, I guess maybe I would also have considered doing something like that. Living in a different country is something I would definitely recommend doing.
2014 - With the Lovell Telescope during my PhD at Jodrell Bank
2015 - Visit to Owens Valley Observatory during my long-term attachment at Caltech and NASA JPL.
I did part of my PhD at these two institutions in Pasadena (CA), US.
*For further information about work placements at RAL Space, take a look at our vacancies page.
Some of our placement students have shared their experiences of working at RAL Space in our blogs section, including Eimear Gallagher who was placed in the Millimetre Wave Group in 2018/19 while she studied Physics with Astrophysics at Nottingham Trent University.