For over a century, International Women’s Day, held on 8 March each year, has marked a day of celebration and advocacy for women’s rights and equality around the world. Universities, governments, charities, organisations, corporations and the media all celebrate the day. We are using this as an opportunity to turn our gaze upwards, to the vast space sector, to showcase the work of the incredible women who work within it. As of March 2021 we have seen 65 women in space with jobs ranging from astronauts, cosmonauts, payload specialists and more; we have certainly come a long way since 1963 when Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who flew on Vostok 6, was the first woman in space. Women are now an integral part of the industry and if we turn our attention to the earth – who are the women who are leaders in the field?
This article is an opportunity to explore the diverse range of problem-solving, satellite-operating, growth-creating jobs that are available for women in space today. These are a group of talented, hard-working, ambitious and supportive women, who are leading the way in the space industry and these last few weeks we have been lucky to interview them, about their work, passions and what it means to be a woman in leadership now. It takes a whole host of different people, from diverse backgrounds to bravely explore the unknown of space – and to make things that seem impossible, possible. These women certainly do that.
Director of Operations, South Coast Centre Of Excellence in Satellite Applications
Djamila Ouelhadj is Director of Operations with the South Coast Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications as well as Professor of Operational Research and Analytics in the School of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Portsmouth. For the past 25 years Professor Djamila Ouelhadj has pioneered successful novel mathematical optimisation models, advanced intelligent computational methods, and intelligent decision support systems to solve a wide range of real world problems in transport, renewable energy and sustainability and healthcare.
“I have always been fascinated by practical problems; I like practical problems.”
Professor Djamila continues to work tirelessly in leadership as the Chair of Logistics, Operational Research and Analytics. She is currently leading on the Future Transport Zone Project, an £28.7 million project to improve and implement modes of sustainable transport within the Solent Mobility Zone. It is her ambition to reduce environmental impacts of transport, improve air quality, tackle climate change and transform the Solent region into a better place to live and work for the residents.
“As a woman, the way I can contribute to society is by creating projects and collaborating with businesses – I can see the problem, I can discuss it and I can use my optimisation algorithms and intelligent computing methods to solve it. I just want to see things applied, to make a difference and have an impact for society. Creating jobs or helping the economy or helping the society. That is my passion.”
Business Developer, ESA Space Solutions
Victoria Christmas is a Business Developer for ESA Space Solutions. Victoria is a bid specialist with a focus on bid management, team building, coaching, process redesign and independent stage reviews. With over fifteen years of experience in bid management, Victoria has developed professionally from initially as a marketeer to a freelance consultancy role in which she expertly assists, mentors and coaches organisations to make compelling proposal submissions to ESA to their most efficient and valuable degree.
“I just love what I do. I have the absolute privilege to help businesses, help UK companies to develop their businesses with space technologies. To coach companies and challenge them to where they want to be and how they are going to get there. To support groups and people to do the next big thing. ”
Victoria continues to be dedicated to learning and flourishing in the space sector – enthusiastic to understand the latest innovations and in turn leading in their application to businesses – the key to doing so, she believes, is in the power of networking.
“I think having been at home for a year, it has reaffirmed my belief in the value of people and the value of networking with people – just to connect people together for mutual benefit. To talk and to listen and to broaden your knowledge. ”
Spacecraft Operations Engineer, In-Space
Hana Bird is a Spacecraft Operations Engineer with In-Space. Since completing an apprenticeship in 2014, Hana has flourished in the satellite engineering industry as an Spacecraft Operations Engineer with SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.) and now with In-Space Missions.
“I love being busy, I love that there are different things happening all the time in the sector. For me, the space industry and engineering is always different. There are always new things to learn.”
Part of the continuing emergence of young people commencing their careers in the space and satellite sector, Hana was due to speak on a Generation Z panel at the Satellite 2020 conference before COVID-19 cancelled the event. She is one of just many pioneering new faces at the centre point of innovation for the industry and driving how these innovations help people and businesses.
“There are such a wide variety of talented specialists we are working with and it’s a real privilege to be working alongside and learning from them everyday. We are really lucky in the space sector to have some really fantastic women on our leadership teams and on our engineering teams. They are inspiring. The backgrounds they come from, the qualifications they have – that proves the capabilities of women to lead on solving complex problems”
Trade and Investment Coordinator, Enterprise M3
Francesca Caramelle is a Trade and Investment Coordinator with Enterprise M3. Francesca drives economic growth in the Hampshire region across a variety of sectors including that of space and satellite. Her passion for refugee rights and migration trends combined with her MA in International Relations was transformed as an EU Policy Assistant in Brussels across a variety of sectors. Now enhancing the visibility of the region and attracting inward investment in the space sector as well as animal health, clean growth and life sciences.
“I love what I do and I see the value in how the space sector underpins so many aspects of everyday life. Without the sector we would be completely lost. This sector is so vibrant and dynamic and so different everyday. But it’s also people focussed, I feel like I am helping people every day.”
Stimulated by challenges and new developments in the space sector as well as social policy and human rights, Francesca is driven by how new innovations can ultimately help people across all walks of life.
“Women are real assets in the professional world – we can multitask, we are resilient, we have tremendous strength too. These qualities are valuable not to just the space sector but across all aspects of life. The sector is still quite male dominated and there is still a long way to go for diversity. The need to get more women and girls involved is still very real”.
Business Development Manager, South Coast Centre for Excellence in Satellite Applications
Dr Louise Butt is Business Development Manager for the South Coast Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications. Louise undertook a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Portsmouth before working as a Researcher and then a Research Development Officer in the Higher Education Sector focusing on technology knowledge exchange.
“I have always been fascinated by science – I have a natural affinity and love for that and technology. This role gave me a broader view of that via the space sector but it is also so much more. My morning can begin collaborating on agriculture projects and then, by the afternoon, I’ll be working on sustainable energy or drone swarms.”
She is particularly fascinated by the emergence of constellations and integrated satellite technologies and ultimately the innovations this will bring to people across the globe. Louise continues to lead and trailblaze collaborative and business-led projects on the South Coast.
“I think women are exceptionally resilient – and what has surprised me in the space sector is the number of women who are emerging in this industry. The types of roles and the sector expertise they bring to power new innovation is really exciting.”
Team Administrator, South Coast Centre for Excellence in Satellite Applications
Victoria May Chamberlain is a Team Administrator with the South Coast Centre for Excellence in Satellite Applications. Victoria has gravitated towards the immense possibilities of the space sector since an early age and is particularly passionate about making accessible the vastness of beauty of space to all ages.
“I’ve always been interested in the space industry. Even as a kid. It was not perhaps wanting to be an astronaut, but space itself. So I’m so privileged to work in a sector I have always been interested and passionate about and bringing this passion to others.”
Victoria continues to be dedicated to driving how this vastness can revolutionize all aspects of human life and improving them environmentally and economically. She is particularly excited about the capabilities of the Space Hub and how she can lead in interacting and building relationships with businesses digitally but also in-person together post-COVID-19. Tremendously ambitious and hungry to share the work of the South Coast Centre, Victoria is driven to introduce and transform the accessibility for the sector for all.
“I think there needs to be a bigger voice for women in this sector. We have such a diverse skill set and things are improving on how it used to be but it’s a slow process and there needs to be much more. It’s about changing opinions and challenging them”.
Head of Regional Growth, Satellite Applications Catapult
Nafeesa Dadja is Head of Regional Growth with Satellite Applications Catapult. Nafeesa’s role is to grow the space sector across the UK and has been undertaking this for the past seven years – setting up regional centres of excellence and engaging with communities as to how the space sector can transform ways of working and living. Nurtured initially from her background in Chemistry, Nafeesa is now an expert in satellite applications in the region.
”The thing I love to do is bring businesses together, introducing people to form communities. Space technology is hidden technology that enables so much for life on earth – our connectivity, our journeys, our environment. It is a thing you can’t see but enables so much”
Constantly staying ahead of the curve of the ever changing landscape of the sector, Nafeesa is tremendously excited about the accessibility of space exploration to the public as well as the drive of space robotics, space manufacturing and sustainable energy innovations. Leading a diverse team to bring these innovations to anyone and everyone, Nafeesa is a key leader in delivering space applications to the public.
“I think women continuously demonstrate resilience and working in a team composed of women creates a camaraderie of support amongst us both as individuals and as a team – something so important now more than ever.”
Dr Susan Jason
Principal Engineer and Head of Outreach, In-Space
Dr Susan Jason is Principal Engineer and Head of Outreach for In-Space Missions with over 21 years of experience working in the space industry across over 20 space missions, numerous developments across commercial, agency, national and international projects. Susan’s professional and personal dedication to the sector has led to a PhD in Low-Cost Spacecraft Systems Engineering and her career has grown rapidly with Surrey Satellite Technology and now with In-Space Missions working on projects involving mission design, space environment analysis and much much more.
“I want to work on projects that make a difference to the world and do good for the world. But I am inspired to fix problems, to deliver solutions. The space industry is so varied and you can do anything within it. It doesn’t matter what you think your strengths are – technical, creative, scientific – there is a place for you to do that here.”
A big part of her role in the space industry is about getting out and about to talk about current and future technology, learning from others and creating beneficial partnerships. This involves going into schools and talking with students about careers, engaging with the UK space agency on advisory boards, working with the Local Enterprise Partnership on strengthening links between business and academia in the region and presenting at international conferences. Susan has been an inspiring and motivating figure – inspiring and motivating a diverse workforce of genders, ethnicities and backgrounds to enter into the rewarding and varied careers of the sector.
“We want to see an equal route and equal opportunities in the space sector and any sector for that matter, for anyone. I want to encourage anyone to step out of their comfort zone to find what they want to do. We are lucky in Space-UK to see the emergence of this diversity – from different routes, specialisms, backgrounds, countries and genders. Long may it continue and at an accelerated pace.”
In the week when the Space Sector Skills survey was released, which illustrated the need for more skilled workers in the sector, it has been truly wonderful to meet with a selection of women, who are each highly skilled, and experts in their field. Since the year 2000 the space sector in the UK has trebled in size and is now worth more than £300bn (according to Politico) to the economy, the opportunities for women are literally endless, and we are looking forward to seeing what the women interviewed today will go on to do as well as the next generation of women that they inspire to join us.