Dr Philip David Wadey

Country: United Kingdom
Sector: Aerospace
Job title: Head of Space
Subject of study: Mathematics
Year of graduation: 1986
Type/Level of study: Undergraduate

Current Employer/Organisation Name

Airbus Defence & Space Ltd

What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

Joined British Aerospace on leaving Exeter (1989) to work on problems involving sloshing fluids in spacecraft tanks. Moved into spacecraft design and operations (1992). Attitude and orbit control technical advisor for NATO IVB launch (1993) at Onizuka AFB, on call responsibilities to RAF for domestic spacecraft (1993-2003), Mission Manager for launches of SKYNET 4D (1998) and SKYNET 4E (1999). Developed migration plan (space elements) for the privatisation of MOD satellite communications and became Spacecraft Management Authority at the PFI transfer to Paradigm Secure Communications Ltd (2003). Led the last month-long FEETBACK deployment to Schriever AFB (2005) and the introduction to service of new spacecraft control centres in the UK capable of controlling launches (2006). Decision Authority (UK) for the launches of SKYNETs 5A and 5B (2007) and 5C (2008). Member of team awarded the Royal Aeronautical Society Gold Medal (2008). Appointed Paradigm’s Head of Space (2009). FRAeS (2014). Paradigm subsumed into parent company Airbus Defence & Space Ltd, so now Head of Space at Airbus.

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

I was going to work for British Aerospace because my PhD was directly useful to their (then) new fast plane project. However, between being offered the job and arriving, the programme had been cancelled so they asked if I would work on spacecraft. I have not looked back! Most enjoyable things are launches, solving difficult technical problems on the in-orbit constellation (when you can’t go and fix the spacecraft in situ), and celebrating how great the Space Industry is in the UK.

Please tell us if you were a member of any societies, groups or sports clubs?

Riding: Captain 1985-6, Vice Captain 1986-7, 1987-8, 1988-9 Member of the AU Council, including a year as Secretary. Became chairman of British Universities Sports Federation (BUSF) Riding Panel, which led on to voluntary positions at the British Horse Society, and eventually BHS Chairman 2010-2012. OODS member – fantastic walking on Dartmoor and other places.

What did you enjoy most about your programme and what was the biggest highlight?

Maths was a subject I thoroughly enjoyed, and the lectures and tutors really made it fun.

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

A good distance from home, close to Dartmoor (trekking, OODS) and it had a good reputation.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

Analytical thinking, breaking down problems into small manageable pieces. Looking after volunteers to achieve an end turned out to be very helpful when starting to manage staff.

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Get a good degree. Pay attention to detail. Quality counts, and we do reject applicants who can’t write reports properly! Be able to explain your technical work in plain English, not just in your specialist language. When applying for jobs, make sure you have done some homework about what the company does and don’t just try to busk it!

What are your plans for the future?

We are now in the last few years of our contract to run MOD spacecraft communications. I wan’t to preside over a smooth exit, making sure our successors can carry on providing communications services without any drop in capability at hand over. (Better still we will win the follow on contract!) Then I plan to launch one more spacecraft before taking early retirement. Unless some tempting technical challenge comes along of course!


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