Graduate Profile

Gordon Robertson - 1988 Graduate - Satellite Engineering Manager

Gordon at the Soyuz launch pad in Baikonur, Kazakhstan

I’ve been fascinated by space since I was a child: one of my earliest memories is of being allowed to stay up late to watch one of the Apollo moon landings. I was something of a late developer at school but thanks to some hard graft - and a run of good exam results - found myself able to choose which university to go to. I fell in love with St Andrews’ unique atmosphere during a special weekend organised for prospective students, and the opportunity to do some astrophysics while there was an added attraction.

I graduated from St Andrews in 1988 with a BSc (Hons) in Physics and Theoretical Physics, then headed south to the University of Surrey where I did a very intensive MSc in Satellite Communications Engineering. The rapid transition from a theoretically-inclined scientist to engineer proved less difficult than it might have been due to the many learning skills and increasing self-confidence I’d acquired at St Andrews.

On leaving Surrey I joined Marconi Space Systems in Portsmouth as a Systems Engineer, working initially on a Spanish satellite needed to broadcast TV coverage of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. I’ve stayed with the same firm for 25 years, though the company name and industrial structure has changed several times, eventually morphing into Airbus Defence & Space. Today we’ve become one of the largest space companies in the industry, employing over 18,000 people globally on space activities.

Over the years I’ve worked on a range of satellite projects for a variety of applications: military communications, commercial satellite communications and satellite navigation. I’ve also moved into engineering management, which requires strong cross-disciplinary technical knowledge, and the ability to motivate very busy and clever people to put in the extra hours needed to meet the next project deadline. At the time of writing, my engineering team is completing the testing of the latest fleet of satellites that will provide high capacity digital TV services across the UK and Europe.

To succeed in my chosen line of work requires both an eye for detail and an ability to rapidly process a deluge of technical and programmatic data, which is often a difficult balancing act. As anyone working in the space industry will tell you, attention to quality is paramount because failures can have catastrophically expensive implications.

My work involves close collaboration with suppliers and customers from other countries on a daily basis, and the ability to work effectively across cultural and language differences is vital to getting the job done. The international dimension does however mean that I get to travel frequently, sometimes to some very unusually located facilities around the world.

And few jobs have the adrenaline rush you get from seeing something you worked on for years being lofted into space on a rocket.

Students from the School wishing to contact Gordon may do so via Bruce Sinclair.


Posted BDS 2.14