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  • Writer's picturePhilip Day

Space Placements in Industry: An Inside Track

Space Placements in Industry, known as SPIN have become a powerhouse of developmental opportunity in the UK Space Industry, enabled by the UK Space Agency. Companies such as SmallSpark Space Systems take university engineers under their wings (or perhaps fins in this case) for a summer internship where a symbiotic relationship between industry experience on the one hand, and cheap but useful labour on the other has spawned a number of fruitful ongoing relationships within the industry.

One such example can be found in Cranfield student Sam Juson, who is completing an MSc in Astronautics and Space Engineering alongside his duties as Co-President at the Cranfield’s chapter of the UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space society, known as UKSEDS. We’ve featured them on this page a number of times before, as a great forward looking society of university students.

Sam can go into some impressive detail about the project that he completed for SmallSpark, specifically using additive manufacturing techniques to improve performance of the hybrid engines that SmallSpark has been working on. Indeed, rumour suggests we may see static fires of this rocket engine this year!

Lockdown presented some unique challenges for Sam, who’s work-space more closely resembled the humble beginnings of the Harry Potter series for a short amount of time, rather than the cutting-edge space tech company based in Cardiff usually has to offer.

In truth though, the £3 desk that housed Sam’s workstation offered far more opportunity than it presumably did back-pain and the relationship has been hailed as a huge success by all parties.

Sam couldn’t have been more grateful with a long list of acknowledgements reflecting the opportunity he has experienced:

I would firstly like to thank Joe Ward for giving me this amazing opportunity. Aleksander and Saif for being great teachers, and your patience with me. To Matt and Anton for my involvement in the hardware developments, and to all others involved in Smallspark Space Systems, I look forward to seeing what technical advances you achieve in the future. Also, a big thank you to Kathie Bowden and everyone at the UK Space Agency who enable the SPIN scheme to run. This placement has been extremely rewarding and valuable for both personal and professional development.” – Sam Juson.

Meanwhile the team over at SmallSpark have also showered their intern, and the programme that he represents with praise:

"During Sam's time with us, he demonstrated great enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn. He dedicated most of his time to helping the computational fluid dynamics team with various problems, including aerodynamic shape optimisation, and combustion modelling. Even though there was a large learning curve, Sam proved very capable and left a lasting impression on the team." - Dr Alex Lovric, Lead CFD Engineer.

We asked Sam what it really meant to be on a SPIN internship, and what he could take away from the experience such that students following in his footsteps can make an informed decision on the matter. Sam told us:

Learning the fundamental principles of hybrid rocket combustion and propulsion within this internship, along with common configuration of Hybrid Rocket Engines was a very demanding but rewarding task. I specialised in the design of the injector, focusing my research on compiling literature on various injector designs and their associated advantages and disadvantages, as well as evaluating their capabilities both experimentally and computationally. I had to develop a solid understanding to base my developments, and then utilise this in my design. I produced two prototype variants of a Shower Head (SH) and Vortex (VOR) Injector, and analysed their performance for optimizing the atomization, combustion properties and mixing of the propellants.

The next stages of the project would be to mechanically test the design of the operational engine, measuring tensile, compressive and vibrational stresses to replicate the forces experienced during the launch phase. It would then be integrated into the solid fuel grain of the Hybrid Rocket Engine (HRE), ready for test firing.

It was great to be able to work on technologies like this, and it really made me feel as if I was contributing to a small part of the future of the UK space sector. A great feeling, and an even bigger motivation to strive for more within this field.

Since completing his SPIN internship Sam has secured work at UK Satellite Company Asteria as an Orbital Engineer.

Sam’s ingenuity was tested over the course of his summer placement and those hours spent at Harry Potter’s version of a home-working set-up provided real value to the Space Industry here in the UK and moved the dial noticeably towards achieving successful launch from UK soil, one of the British Government’s key aspirations for the coming years.

For industry the SPIN programme has been a roaring success. Joe Ward, CEO and Lead Propulsion Engineer at SmallSpark (referred to as S4 below) praised the programme and the individual:

"Working with Sam was an absolutely brilliant experience and he took to the problems we set him with immense enthusiasm. Not a lot of what we work on at S4 is really available easily in textbooks/literature so he had to do a lot of investigations by himself and with the team. We're now excited to be continuing to work with Sam through the Cranfield SEDS programme. The SPIN programme has been brilliant for Smallspark and we're definitely going to be utilising it this coming summer to begin to work with more enthusiastic young minds!"

-Joe Ward, CEO and Director of Propulsion

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