blankets is a very skilled practical task; technicians need to be able
to precisely measure, cut and in some cases, sew the blankets. This
requires nimble-fingers and the skill to think three dimensionally. Many
of these skills are used by crafts people, so the job advert called for
people with a love of sewing and crafting.
Angela Ashill was
looking for a change of career and happened to see an advert for a
skilled craftsperson at RAL Space. Although the job was nothing like
she'd ever done before, she knew she had to apply.
expected to work anywhere like this" Angela said, “I had been running a
card-making business at home when I saw the advert for the MLI position
at RAL Space. I was intrigued – at the very least I thought it would be
interesting to go to the interview. But my craft business and my
previous career as a radiographer gave me the confidence to apply."
Morgan, like many mums, struggled to balance working against the costs
of childcare after the birth of her third child. She became an OFSTED
registered childminder and learned to sew and bake for family and
“After my kids went to school I started thinking
about doing something else but it needed to fit round them. A friend of
mine who already worked for RAL Space in engineering showed me the job
advert. She suggested I give it a go."
third new team member, Kim Morgan, has always had an interest in sewing
and science – but never imagined she would be sewing thermal blankets
in a laboratory.
“When I saw the job advert on the RAL Space
website it looked like my ideal job because it involved making stuff"
said Kim. “The interview seemed very technical but when they took us
down to the cleanroom and made a piece of blanket I thought, if this is
what the job is about, it's what I want to do."
While RAL Space
has had a growing number of customers for MLI expertise, recruiting the
right staff to keep up with demand had been an ongoing issue until
Angela, Claire and Kim joined Steven Cross in the team.
realised we had been coming at the recruitment process as engineers;"
said Edward Jones, MLI Facility manager. He explained, “the issue was
that we were thinking about the skills we had, rather than those
actually needed for the role. So the recruitment team re-phrased the
advert, took out much of the technical jargon and refocused on the craft
skills needed for the job"
It's clear that the MLI team have quickly got to grips with the technical nature of the job and take pride in their work.
get given a pattern from the engineers and what they want to achieve,"
explained Angela, “We need to work out the stages of putting everything
together. There really isn't as much sewing as I had thought, much more
cutting the pattern and sticking with special tape."
every kilogram launched into space costing several thousand pounds,
everything has to be very precise and everything has to work perfectly
when it gets into orbit.
Claire described the process of keeping
everything clean and correct, “We weigh everything and cut accurately to
make sure we don't add excess weight. There can't be any stray fibres
or bubbles in the tape because the trapped air would expand and it would
come apart when the spacecraft is in a vacuum."
Kim agreed with
the need for care and attention “Each blanket is unique so you can't
rush it. If you rush it you'll make mistakes. I'm a very visual person, I
like to see something being made from start to finish. It is definitely
inspiring that they go into space."
And there are even some
skills that transfer the other way according to Claire, 'Working in a
cleanroom, with lots of visitors coming through RAL Space, I've become a
lot cleaner and tidier with my work at home and much more precise
making decorations for cakes."
RAL Space is just getting busier
with around 500 blankets to make for external projects over the next 2
to 3 years and growing interest from beyond the space sector.
said: “We are delighted with Kim, Claire and Angela, they had just the
skills we needed and are a brilliant addition to our team. With new
skills that wouldn't be available otherwise and a different way of
looking at the task. We need more people like this taking up jobs in the
UK space industry."
Search and apply for STFC RAL Space careers.
For more information please contact, RAL Space Enquiries
Image 1 - Technician cutting MLI precicely by hand. Credit: STFC RAL Space
Image 2 - Technicans rolling out layers of insulation to make MLI. Credit: STFC RAL Space