Jeroen Cappaert, here to NanoSatisfi your thirst of science
1. What is (are) your current job title(s), and what does it (do they) mean?
I am co-founder of NanoSatisfi, based in San Francisco, and currently lead avionics and payload engineer. Although this all sounds very technical it also encompasses all the other aspects of being in a startup e.g. participate in fundraising, customer meetings, setting up our office, or cleaning the cleanroom.
2. Why is your job important?
The nano-satellite industry is in a very interesting state right now as the capabilities of small satellites are exponentially increasing. The number of CubeSats launched also increases exponentially every year. The time has come that we have to take advantage of this fact and move from doing mostly university-based experiments (although very interesting) to addressing real-world problems that can only be fixed using this kind of technology. New companies in the field are popping up at an increasing rate with new and creative applications for nano-satellites that the conventional “large-satellite” industry has never been able to provide.
3. What led you to that career path?
I wasn’t always interested in space, but when I took a space course during my engineering studies at the KU Leuven the spark kind of ignited. It seemed such an interesting engineering field with unique, difficult and exciting challenges that don’t exist in any other field. From that moment onwards I went all in for space and went off to study space studies at ISU in France. It was there I met my co-founders and we came up with the crazy thought that we might be able to make a difference in the nanosatellite field. Also through ISU I got to work at NASA Ames for a little while and meet awesome people and do really cool stuff there.
4. How would you describe your typical work day?
The day starts with a “scrum” with the engineering team, a short stand-up meeting where everybody details what they’re working on that day. What the actual content of the day will be can vary a lot depending on where in the life cycle of a satellite we are. In the conceptual design phase I might be looking for payloads and components, doing high-level design, deciding on off shelf subsystems and manufacturers to use. During detailed design we design our own electronics and mechanical systems. After this we’ll prototype, assemble and test these systems over and over again until we’re satisfied. The most fun and crazy times arise when we have to do final assembly and delivery of a satellite. There’s always last minute issues that creep to the surface and cause us to lose a lot of sleep during those periods.
5. What is the most exciting thing you ever had the chance to do?
Seeing actual big space facilities is always really awesome. Our first two satellites were to be launched on a H-II rocket by the Japanese space agency JAXA. After delivery of the satellites to JAXA, we were invited to send somebody to be at the integration of our satellites with the deployer that would go to ISS. I was lucky enough to go to JAXA in Tsukuba near Tokyo and visit the space center there. I got a tour of their state of the art facilities including the ISS simulator and got to participate in the deployer integration in their giant cleanroom.
6. What advice would you give to your young self?
Do crazier stuff earlier. Take more chances and go study, live or work abroad earlier. Be creative, try a lot of different things you think you might want to do with your life, and fail early and a lot, because this is the only way to figure out what you really want to do.