Ian Horsfall
11 Aug 2021



Dynamics Group Leader, Environmental Test Division


​​Ian Horsfall in his role as Dynamics Group Leader​​


How did you get into your job?

I always wanted to be a rocket scientist, it just took me 50 years to get there.

I worked in the defence industry at a ballistics test lab for about 20 years. From 2010 I started to get more interested in space and in 2018 I did an Open University post graduate course in space science to get a better idea how things work. 

A year after I completed the course I started at RAL Space running the Dynamics Group. It is very similar to stuff I used to do just on a different type of sample for a different type of purpose. I used to test ballistic systems and armour and now I test bits of spacecraft instead.

​What is your role?

My role is to manage the group that tries to reproduce the dynamic mechanical environment that spacecraft or satellites experience during launch and, to some extent, during operations.

So, typically we’re taking subsystems of a satellite or small satellite of maybe 50kg and subjecting them to vibration loads to simulate the rocket launch and shock to simulate the separating of the rocket stage. Currently we’re limited to relatively small items but with the National Satellite Test Facility​ we’ll be able to test items up to about the size of a small bus.

What’s the best thing about your job? 

I think there are two things I really like about this job. One is being able to go outside at night and look at the stars, planets and satellites. I’m going to be able to watch a light go overhead and know that I touched that thing while it was being prepared ready for launch and that’s what I particularly like about the work I do.

The other thing that’s quite nice is that this industry is an expanding, developing industry. So we’re recruiting people all the time. We’re putting new equipment in and it’s nice to be in an environment where things are expanding and going upwards and getting bigger all the time.

Why is it important that you do what you do?

Satellites and spacecraft are different from many other things that we’re used to dealing with in that they’re very expensive and we don’t get to fix them. So it’s very important that when it’s launched, it works. My job is to make sure that it can resist the fairly rough treatment it gets on the way up and when it gets there that it works properly.

The lab is set up to take components of satellites and spacecraft and treat them very, very carefully and then subject them to an environment and record how they behave and then afterwards they’re checked to make sure that they’re still functioning.

Obviously if they go wrong during launch then a vast amount of money has been wasted in launching it and potentially not only will the satellite suffer but something else that is on the same launcher might also suffer. So it’s really important they’re able to resist the environment that they are subjected to.

What do you value most about working for RAL Space?

I think one of the things that sets RAL Space apart is that almost everyone in the organisation right up to the higher levels of management are here because they want to be involved in space missions and science in space. This leads to a set of people who are committed to getting the missions completed and committed to getting the results from individual science missions or from commercial missions. That makes it a really nice place to work, with a set of people who are all pulling in the same direction. I value that.

What advice would you give to people looking for a job in this industry?

I think like any industry what you have to do is decide what you actually enjoy doing and go out and do that. And if you’re good at it, hopefully someone will pay you to do it. You can put a lot of planning in but it’s very difficult to actually go where you plan to go. You tend to end up somewhere by a series of fortunate or unfortunate events which are very difficult to plan. So, I find the best thing is to do what I enjoy doing and see where the flow takes me.

Ian Horsfall_pyroshock.JPG

Next to the pyroshock simulator facility at RAL Space in 2021.​​​