What is your role?
I make Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI) blankets for instruments to go on satellites. Multi-Layer Insulation is the shiny covering that is wrapped around spacecraft – it's used to keep the spacecraft and instrumentation at an optimum temperature in space. It's important because if it's too hot the instrumentation won't work, too cold it won't work, and so basically the MLI blankets that I make are there to keep the satellite working. Our engineers use computer-aided design techniques to specify the MLI blankets for each individual instrument or spacecraft. I then manufacture it to their specifications.
How did you get into your job at RAL Space?
I knew someone who was working in the Multi-Layer Insulation team – I actually went to school with her son and she had started at RAL Space as a clean room technician in the Multi-Layer Insulation Facility at the same time as I was starting a job working for a medical company. I was also working in a clean room environment, sewing stents under a microscope - really fine detailed work, so we had that connection of similarities between our jobs. I then went on a gap year and volunteered in the Amazon Rainforest helping out with scientific surveys. When I got back I heard there was an opening at RAL Space and I thought I'd love to work in the space industry, so applied and got the job.
What do you most enjoy about the job?
I like that the work is very hands on and practical, I come in at the start of the day and by the end of the day I can have some sort of product manufactured. You can see what you've achieved, which is really satisfying, especially when we are taking the MLI blankets we've made and integrating them on to the actual hardware.
Have you got components in space at the moment?
Not yet! I realised quite quickly starting out at RAL Space that things typically take a while to get done it's a long process. I have manufactured some Single-Layer Insulation (SLI) and went out to Germany to integrate that onto the actual satellite. That's due to launch in 2021.
What do you value about working for RAL Space?
I like that things change all the time, each project is totally different, a different instrument and different materials, some easier, some you have to fight with to get them to work.
I really value the work environment and the people I work with - we laugh a lot in our team! Not being commercial, although we still have deadlines, there's not that constant pressure. Also job security - I've never felt like I'm going to be laid off, and obviously that's important in these times.
I've been able to work from home during the coronavirus lockdown and I've also been working on the 'Ventilator Challenge UK' - which has been producing ventilators for the NHS in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We've been testing equipment and training new people to use the ventilators – it forced me out of my comfort zone, but it was an amazing thing to be involved in.
What advice would you give to anyone looking at coming into our industry?
Be passionate about it! You might not be as qualified, but if you're more passionate than someone else it will shine through and people will give you a chance.
Is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self?
Just say yes to all new experiences. Don't let fear of anything hold you back. I'm horribly dyslexic so at school I would never have imagined working anywhere like this. I might sometimes have had to work a bit harder, but I've never let it hold me back.
2020 Reuben Chesterman manufacturing MLI blankets in the Multi-Layer Insulation Facility clean room