Neil Murrey talks to Smart Futures about his job as an Aerothermodynamics and Propulsion Design Engineer at ESA.
What is job title?
Aerothermodynamics and Propulsion Design Engineer.
What are the main tasks, responsibilities and skills required in your job?
I am responsible for initiating and running activities throughout Europe on a multitude of topics related to propulsion design and Aerothermodynamics. I also provide technical support to other divisions throughout ESA.
Describe your typical day?
My day has no set structure. I am currently managing a very tightly scheduled reentry project and this takes a lot of my time.
For this we in the project team have a telecom every Wednesday to discuss progress but I am in contact with team members daily (if not hourly).
Since this experiment will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) I have frequent safety discussions with colleagues here in ESA and I am responsible for ensuring that the experiment is safe for the ISS and its crew. In parallel to this I am managing activities related to launcher staging, plumes and high speed computational tools.
What are the things you like best about the job?
There are a number of cool aspects of my job some of which perhaps only I find cool. I enjoy the fact that I can use my engineering experience to work on topics directly related to putting vehicles and people in space.
I enjoy the fast paced projects that I am involved with and even though I do spend some sleepless nights worrying, the buzz when you find a solution is fantastic.
In the past six months I have managed a project to put a reentry capsule in space, built hardware for astronaut training, taken part in a space debris study and more.
What are the main challenges?
As you can imagine, there is a lot of administrative work that goes with project management and this is particularly true when you are dealing with flight hardware and safety to crew.
Who or what has most influenced your career direction?
Of course my parents have had a big influence but also the work experience I had in university played a big part in motivating me to get the most out of opportunities.
Also, there were the teachers I had along the way who were excited about science and mathematics and were able to pass on this enthusiasm.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes it does. ESA is a family friendly organization. There are many perks such as home leave, generous paternity and child benefits. Also the wages are very good so we can have a comfortable life.
What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?
I took Physics, Mathematics and Applied Mathematics by choice and also had Geography, German, English and Irish.
Of course Physics mathematics and applied mathematics are core subjects in my day to day work.
What is your education to date?
I took my Leaving Certificate in Cork. I then achieved a First Class honours degree in Mechanical Engineering at Cork Institute of Technology.
After this I went to MIT, Boston to do a research masters which was focused on the fluid dynamics of a NASA compressor stage.
When I finished this I went to Imperial College London to do a PhD in Hypersonic Aerodynamics.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
Most courses I have done have been of some use but in particular the courses on aerodynamics, thermodynamics and mathematics have been the most useful for my current job.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
It helps to have a logical mind and to be fond of puzzles and problem solving. I spend a lot of time trouble shooting and this can be a stressful task if you are not motivated by challenges.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Any industrial work experience is a good start but it would be best to get some experience in a small engineering office of engineering workshop.
Also ESA provides opportunities to students to spend some time on-site working, getting experience and making contacts.