Aerospace seeks new recruits in nanotechnology, robotics and space flight theory
BY DENISE DEVEAU, POSTMEDIA NEWS
Isabelle Tremblay’s been fascinated by space exploration since childhood. As head of exploration systems for the Canadian Space Agency (CAS), she’s now living her dream.
Her interest began when the world started receiving data from Voyager 2. “That really inspired me ... even after I started working in the mining industry.” Today she’s working on a telescope that will orbit 1.5 kilometres above Earth after it launches in 2018.
Tremblay’s career started in mining and metallurgy after she earned her mechanical engineering degree. But after a few years working on earthly pursuits, she decided to get a master’s in aerospace engineering from Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.
In 1997 she interned with CSA, eventually landing a full-time job. “I started out in research and robotics, then onto flight projects,” she said. She also worked on sensor development for NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft, which was deployed on Mars.
“I get to work with the best scientists and engineers ... and with advanced technologies. And I get to work on something positive and constructive – discovery and exploration.”
For Richard Johnstone, instructor of aircraft maintenance engineering at BCIT in Vancouver, space programs are one part of aeronautics still on his wish list. “I’ve had 40 years in the aviation industry. But space is one thing I’d love to do.”
Whether aircraft or space travel, fundamentals are fundamentals. “If you have a great base, there is no ending to your career. All aircraft engineers are explorers to begin with.”
When it comes to space programs, he said, “People in the industry have evolved from mechanics to highly skilled, sought-after technicians. And the industry needs the best there is out there. I don’t think Richard Branson, who is doing a private space program, has enough of a pool of young talent to expand.”
There’s a lot of research and development work out there, Johnstone notes.
“There’s carbon fibre for structures that is 100-times stronger than steel, new propulsion and laser technology developments. The aerospace industry is definitely evolving. We’re on the brink of wonderful changes.”
Skill sets that will become increasingly in demand include nanotechnology, robotics and space flight theory.
“No matter what, however, you still need a base to work from. And the industry needs bright young people to get on board that have a great attitude and passion for the industry. I just hope one of my grads will be working on the moon in the next few years.”
The space-technology program at Ecole Polytechnique is offered to fourth-year mechanical and electrical engineering students. A good portion of the study is based on the telecommunication side of things for satellites and includes an introduction to space missions course.
Professor Jean-Jacques Laurin, who says companies like MDA participate in the program to teach, recruit and hire interns, estimates that five to 10 students get into the program. And while space technology remains popular, competition for talent can be fierce from the energy industry, which is seeking the same engineering talent.
For those with a hankering for deep space technologies, Laurin says it’s a job for rigorous people that pay a lot of attention to detail.
“One thing we tell them about designing for space, although it’s not that different from telecommunications [on Earth], is that you can’t fix it once it goes up. Those guys have to be really, really conscious about every detail and design things that exceed the norm. They have to be perfectionists.”
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