Experiences of a UK Space Agency SPINtern

by | 4 Sep 2023 | Blog Posts

Space Placements in Industry (SPIN) is an initiative which has been connecting student talent with businesses in the space industry for the past decade. Run by the UK Space Agency and in conjunction with the Satellite Applications Catapult, the program selects university students from across the UK to complete a summer project with an organisation who is established in the space sector. These projects typically last 8-10 weeks and give the lucky students (now aptly named ‘SPINterns’) a taste of what employment within the sector looks like as well as valuable skills and experience in their chosen field of interest. There is no set format for these projects and the subject matter can vary wildly from geology and astronomy to data science and market research. The only common link is space, but that’s key to a hugely important aspect of the SPIN program: networking. Being part of the program opens up both students and their host organisations to connections they would never naturally encounter in their everyday channels and promotes engagement within the sector which is ultimately great news for an industry founded on cooperation. In the words of the agency:

“The UK Space Agency has made over £200,000 available in 2023 for organisations of all sizes to deliver inspirational space-oriented projects which will develop the skills that the sector needs in its future workforce. Student applications are welcomed for awarded projects from any discipline and are not restricted to technical degrees.”

I was personally introduced to the program by my university’s newsletter which advertised summer work experience in the space industry, something I was dreaming of as an aerospace engineering student. The position wasn’t a typical engineering role however, requiring analysis of the current space market and the opportunities available for a small business. Upon being accepted, the first important event for any SPINtern is the induction day which means travelling to the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell, England. The Harwell Space Cluster is a magical location for anyone with even a passing interest in space, with over 100 companies working in close proximity on the most cutting-edge technology in the UK. The campus is home to internationally renowned facilities particularly in small satellites, an area which the UK is a world leader in. All of this combined with the warm hospitality from the UKSA team provided a thoroughly enjoyable day and an excellent introduction to the program.

Springco R&D manager Daire O'Dubhthaigh (left) and SPINtern Alex Dunne (right) at Harwell Space Cluster event

Springco R&D manager Daire O’Dubhthaigh (left) and SPINtern Alex Dunne (right) at Harwell Space Cluster event

Once back in Northern Ireland, the project began with my objectives being to provide a summary of the current space market, detail the opportunities within it today and suggest action that could be taken by TMG to take advantage of them. Throughout my 8 weeks, I travelled to both sister companies within the Technical Metals Group: Technical Metals and Springco however it was the latter of the two who were most applicable to the modern space industry with a rich heritage providing springs to several high-profile interplanetary missions. I collected the bulk of my research in a report which was distributed through both companies as well as a presentation given to the managers of each division.

 The conclusion of every SPINternship is the creation and presentation of a poster summarising the work carried out over the course of the summer. This year’s posters will be displayed during a showcase event at the UK Space Conference in Belfast 21st – 23rd November. As well as the showcase, Daire and I will be speaking on our experiences to give a Northern Irish perspective on a program which sees applications predominantly come from mainland UK. The talks are aimed at promoting engagement with the SPIN initiative in NI in the same way that hosting the conference in Belfast seeks to grow the entire space sector in the region.

“The SPIN scheme is managed by the UK Space Agency and has been running since 2013. It continues to grow in popularity, with demand outstripping supply. In 2023, 80 placements were offered and, due to its success, there is an intention to expand the scheme considerably next year.”

The final outcome of the internship has been this blog which will continue bi-weekly throughout the year so stay tuned for specialist opinion on the space industry and insights into an award-winning manufacturer.