What surprises Jennifer Edwards most about working in the space industry is how much her work blends legacy and innovation.
“I’m always amazed at how much we simultaneously look back and look forward,” said Edwards, Senior Systems Engineer at Lockheed Martin. “There’s legacy work that was written before I was born and is still relevant today, but equally, there’s work we look at which is impossible now but may be possible in 10 or even 30 years’ time and we’re already thinking about it and trying to adapt to it.”
In her role as a senior systems engineer working in a classified environment, Edwards walks the line of appreciating the legacy and history behind what has already been achieved, while keeping a finger on the pulse on what will be the future of the UK’s space strategy.
Work with a National Impact
Edwards joined Lockheed Martin in 2018 as a graduate engineer, directly out of university, and completed four rotations over two years in modeling and simulation, the UK’s armored fighting vehicle programme, operational analysis and, finally, systems engineering.
But her interest in a space job began years earlier with a local newspaper contest.
“I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t interested in space,” said Edwards. “But what first got me excited about doing it as a career was when I was 12 or 13, I entered a competition with the local newspaper to submit an ask or a story about what we would say to persuade the public to support another space mission.”
Edwards’ essay won her a week at space camp in Turkey where she got to meet real world astronauts and understand the wide variety of public-facing and behind the scenes jobs available in the space industry, as well as trying space simulator machines such as the Multi-Axis Trainer (MAT).
Today, part of what Edwards loves most about her job has brought her full circle to that newspaper contest – the strong impact of her work on the UK public.
“I love working with people who are going to make the next decision about where the UK should focus its space efforts and having those high-level conversations in my role,” said Edwards. “At the same time, I love that my job gives me the ability to still dive into some of the detailed physics behind the analysis we’re undertaking.”
Making Space for Everyone in Space
Edwards came to Lockheed Martin with a background in Physics and Astronomy, and her time in the company’s graduate rotational programme gave her “a good sense of what system engineering looks like at different points in the programme lifecycle, and on programmes of vastly different scales.”
Her day-to-day work consists of key engineering skills like operational analysis, modelling and simulation, requirements management, and customer-facing support.
Outside of work, Edwards has participated in STEM outreach activities with students. While the number of female engineers in the UK is growing, women are still in the minority in engineering jobs.
“It’s around the things that make us different and unique that we should come together to move forward, rather than feeling like they are something that isolate us,” said Edwards. “There is space for everyone in space.”
Her career advice for incoming engineers is to take all the opportunities you’re offered, and accept failure as part of the learning process. “There are always difficult steps in your career – whether you’re in school and have failed a test or are unable to do some homework, whether you’re in university and struggling, or whether you’re established in your career and are trying to move up.”
“At whatever point in your career you’re in, there’s always that fear of the unknown or having to worry about risking and failing at something,” said Edwards. “I think that’s just a part of how people move on and progress, by allowing themselves to grow outside of their comfort zones. Don’t let that discourage you, and crucially try not to compare yourself to others’ journeys.”