Three things that motivate me most about the space industry are: we work to solve hard problems, we give highly skilled talent a place to apply and explore their unique strengths, and we build new possibilities for the entire world. I believe everyone should benefit from space, and working to make space sustainable helps to achieve this.
Asa part of my series about “Women Leading The Space Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Clare Martin. Dr. Martin is the Executive Vice President at Astroscale US.
Dr. Martin is a senior leader in the aerospace industry with extensive experience in company operations, strategic planning and business management, project and bid management, and staff development and engagement. Dr. Martin Thrives on problem solving.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Dr. Martin! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I really appreciate this opportunity to talk to you and share my thoughts about women helping to lead the space industry.
I was raised in the UK, where both of my parents were technical professionals in engineering and computer science. I had an interest in science and technology from an early age, especially science fiction novels, math problems and coding my own simple computer games.
More by happenstance than planning, I attended an all-girls high school. In looking back, I think this served me well as there were no expectations about which subjects a girl should like or be good at. In this environment, my final high-school exams (known as A-levels in the UK) were in math, physics and chemistry, and achieving high grades on those exams enabled me to go on to study physics and astronomy at university.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
When I was in my early teens, I was given a copy of Ian Nicholson’s books, Astronomy and Exploring the Planets — adding some science nonfiction to my collection of science fiction! I am certain that these encouraged me to study astronomy, knowing that the universe offered so much to discover beyond Earth itself.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the space industry? We’d love to hear it.
I don’t have a particular inspirational story, as I have known I wanted to be in the space field from a young age. After my university degree, I went on to do a doctorate in astrophysics, and from there I had the choice to pursue a career in academia or one in industry. I chose both in a way, as my first job was as a research scientist in what was then the Defence Evaluation & Research Agency, part of the British Ministry of Defence. In this role, I first learned about space debris and the threat it poses to our orbital environment. I was then able to apply this knowledge to my later roles in industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
Launch of the first satellite program I managed! I was working for Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) and the satellite, UK-DMC2, was launched in 2008 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. I was able to travel to see the launch along with our talented launch team and the founder and Chairman of SSTL, Sir Martin Sweeting. Launches are exciting but also can be stressful, as there is a period of time after ignition that you are reliant on the launch vehicle working, and you have no direct control over the process! Once the launch was completed and the satellite was successfully released into orbit from the vehicle, I shed tears of joy and relief. Sir Martin turned to me and saw those tears as a positive: I was engaged and passionate about my mission.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I had a mentor earlier in my career who helped me a great deal by encouraging me to try things outside of my comfort zone. Like a lot of people, I was very nervous about presenting to large groups. With my mentor’s support and encouragement, I helped the company do a lot of outreach in the community by giving presentations to public interest groups about the space debris challenge — what contributes to it and what we can do to help. This is a skill that has helped me at many points throughout my career.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am pursuing several exciting projects at Astroscale. We are a global start-up helping to lead the space industry toward sustainability. Since Astroscale U.S.’ establishment in April 2019, we have expanded our work to bring much-needed logistical flexibility and sustainability to satellite operators, governments and all space users. This includes building the business case to deliver on-orbit life extension to aging satellites; these platforms can still deliver valuable services but may not have sufficient fuel to continue their normal operations. Our on-orbit services will give operators the business continuity they need to serve their customers and the tools to add flexibility to their business operations and investment strategies. We are also preparing for the first commercial launch of a spacecraft that can retrieve and safely deorbit a piece of demonstration space debris.
I find both of these challenges very exciting. They give me the opportunity to put my early career research on space debris into action by building spacecraft that specifically address these complex issues, in parallel to using the skills I have developed in delivering a successful business. I look forward to expanding our business in the U.S. market, delivering on-orbit logistical solutions to the space industry and ensuring diversity in our workplace and in the way we build our team which will always be a priority for me.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The space industry, as it is today, is such an exciting arena. What are the 3 things that most excite you about the space industry? Can you explain?
It is a unique time in the space industry, with many new companies entering the marketplace. Three things that motivate me most about the space industry are: we work to solve hard problems, we give highly skilled talent a place to apply and explore their unique strengths, and we build new possibilities for the entire world. I believe everyone should benefit from space, and working to make space sustainable helps to achieve this.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the space industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
I do see a few concerns. Firstly, many people believe that Earth orbit is infinite (or at least extremely massive) but unfortunately, this perception is not true. The parts of space that we currently use are finite and are getting increasingly congested, the same way highways get congested, and we must do more to make space safe. We are already beginning to see accelerated growth. With the thousands of satellites being planned over the next few years, the orbital highways will become very crowded, and new technology and best practices are needed to keep it safe for years to come.
Commercial space and government space should continue to push to collaborate and share ideas to solve the hard problems we face. These two parts of the industry are now equally vital in terms of their importance and utility and we must all work together to succeed.
And lastly, in order to achieve true sustainability, we must be able to work more collaboratively with our international partners.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
The space industry is moving in the right direction in terms of engaging women. However, despite this progress, I still believe there is not enough diversity in the industry. This diversity is especially important at the leadership level as culture is set from the top. The solution needs to start far earlier than the beginning of a career. All children should be afforded the opportunity to explore what excites them and to have access to all career areas. To this end, the industry can specifically continue to partner and work with early educators to excite all children about the possibilities of pursuing STEM-related subjects.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in the space industry that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
There can still be the “old boys club” mentality, especially within the established aerospace regime. One of the reasons long-standing space institutions and organizations and newer space companies should work together is to create a diversity of workforce on any given program or venture, and thus a diversity of approach and thought.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech, or the space industry? Can you explain what you mean?
In my opinion, women should know that having a different approach to work, which relies not only on intellect but also on instinct and empathy, is valuable. Women should not give up what makes us different, as that diversity is what makes for a healthier and well-rounded work environment.
What are your “3 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Believe in yourself / trust your instincts: I think women understand themselves well and as a result we will always have internal doubts. I have learned that this is an asset in professional life and you can use internal doubts to your benefit rather than letting them hold you back.
Have fun: I have learned to value the importance of this in my career. You spend a lot of time at work, it is important to have some fun while there!
No set path: don’t be afraid to adapt and change as you move through your career.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to see all current and future satellite / space programs done with a perspective on sustainability. I think that this attitude would help influence how we develop and maintain the space industry, and we will all benefit from it in the future.