John Gallagher
15 Jul 2021



Senior Systems Engineer in the Space Engineering and Technology Division

John Gallagher

​​John Gallagher, Senior Systems Engineer in the Space Engineering and Technology Division

Credit: John Gallagher/STFC RAL Space

​How did you get into your job?

I started my career as an apprentice maintenance engineer in a semiconductor manufacturing facility. After being made redundant not too long after qualifying I applied for jobs all over the world and was offered a 5 year position at CERN​ on the Swiss/French border developing the Large Hadron Collider beamline vacuum system. 

At CERN I gained specialist in depth technical knowledge in vacuum systems which opened up opportunities back in the UK once my 5 years were up. I decided that I only wanted to put those skills to use in areas that benefit the world, so worked in Nuclear Fusion research, delivering a major milestone on the MAST-U fusion reactor. 

I have always had an interest in space right back from watching and listening to the American astronomer Carl Sagan. I saw an opportunity to contribute my knowledge and experience to the UK space industry without having any aerospace experience, and the working culture of RAL Space really won me over.

​What is your role?

My title is Senior Systems Engineer which means I provide the engineering leadership and strategy for projects and manage the different technical work packages within those projects, including: mechanical design/installation, electrical and control design/installation, vacuum and cryogenics. I’m responsible for ensuring that all the work packages work effectively, logistically, and that the systems will ultimately be able to accomplish what the customers require.   

What’s the best thing about your job? 

The best thing about my job is the people I’ve met. People who are great at what they do and enjoy it; we share common goals and work together to progress and achieve them. I work with people who I can learn from and better myself along my career. At RAL Space we have a young, energetic, enthusiastic workforce. It’s the perfect environment for me to develop more junior staff members, endeavour to lead by example and pass on my skills and knowledge to help others in their careers. This is equally if not more rewarding than the engineering accomplishments.

Why is it important that you do what you do?

Being a technical lead to a large multi-skilled project is important as someone needs to focus on the requirements of the customers and ensure that we meet those requirements at every step of the project lifecycle. It’s also important that any issues are highlighted and addressed early to avoid project delays, additional costs and the risk of non-conformance upon delivery. Setting a strategy and framework for the project gives us a structure and simpler path to follow through the project lifecycle.

​What do you value most about working for RAL Space?

Having worked in a variety of industries, I have experienced many different working cultures. The culture at RAL Space is nurturing, understanding and inclusive, which is an ideal environment for teamwork and approaching complex problems. We all genuinely care about each other’s wellbeing and work life balance and flexibility. Being within that culture eases stress levels and makes working life more enjoyable.

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

If you don’t think your skills and experience are a fit but you want to be a part of this industry, you may just be surprised. Reach out to one/any of us and enquire, there may be opportunities you aren’t aware of. The industry needs people with diverse skills and experience in order to improve capabilities and diversify our workforce.  

​Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self now?

No, but I would tell the present younger generation that there are alternative routes to get to the same goal and each will bring a different perspective, skills and experience which is needed. 

​My generation were steered heavily towards the university route. I was apprentice trained and progressed up through the ranks that way. Choose a route which inspires you more and lends itself to the best way that you learn and develop. Also, take ownership. No matter how small a role you have, take a mental ownership of the bigger scope and you will learn more, produce better quality work and receive a bigger sense of achievement. 

Inside the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Inside the tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Inside the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

With the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Decontaminating Space Test Chamber 2​ at RAL Space.

Preparing Space Test Chamber 2​ for ​cleaning at RAL Space.

Outside Test suite 2-01.jpg
Outside the 5m thermal vacuum test suite at RAL Space 2021.