Interview with Christopher Alexander, a Young Graduate Trainee at the Concurrent Design Facility
About half of the CDF section comprises Young Graduate Trainees (YGTs). They stay a relatively short time but their contribution to the CDF is very valuable.
Who are you?
Christopher Alexander. I'm 23 years old and British
What is your background?
I have a Masters in Aerospace engineering from the University of Southampton in the UK. My degree course was a combination of aeronautics and spacecraft design, but in the last years of my course, my main interest was in Spacecraft Systems and so I decided to specialise in that for my final projects.
What brought you to the CDF?
I was looking at the ESA Portal, and saw the advertisement for the YGT Programme and so applied online. The opportunity in the CDF appealed to me more than the others, as it was a way to be involved in the whole system design process, also because it offered a wide diversity of projects.
What are the main tasks of a YGT in the CDF?
My role is two-fold. As an assistant system engineer, I’ll participate in CDF design studies for the assessment and preliminary design of future ESA missions. I may be asked to perform a variety of analysis and mission design calculations as well as help the Team Leader to run the sessions. In my second role, I would be involved in several general infrastructure projects, for example, investigating the database environment or helping improve the CDF design model.
What studies or projects have you worked on since starting at the CDF?
I have worked on a feasibility study of an electric upper stage for the Vega launch vehicle called E-Vega, a Mars demonstration lander and finally, the largest study, a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle. As regards CDF infrastructure activity, I have worked on protyping and testing of a new central database. I also developed the model for a descent and landing system based on airbags, something I had never expected to do but which I found to be an interesting challenge.
What do you enjoy most at the CDF and why?
I like being in the studies the most. You have a complete understanding of how all the subsystem problems are interrelated. You’re part of a central team, you see how system design develops and you’re given the opportunity to suggest solutions to some unusual problems. This occurred in particular in the last study I worked on because it was the first time we designed a new launcher at CDF. You’re also given the responsibility to make sure all parts of the system interact. Design sessions are very dynamic meetings. I enjoyed the diversity and had no idea that I would end up working on launcher design, for example.
The CDF has a Rapid Prototyping machine to make 3-D models. What or who would you set the machine to make?
I think that’s an unusual question. Maybe an unusual question deserves an unusual answer… Perhaps, one day, we could create a miniature customer that could actually gives us requirements that didn’t change during the study? No seriously, I don’t know.
What will you remember most about CDF and ESTEC 10 years from now?
I don’t think I’ll forget the welcoming environment I found here. In my group we had a very dedicated, integrated team that made me feel at home. I guess the wooden barracks [Editor’s note: the CDF is temporarily hosted in wooden prefabricated barracks] in which I shared an office and where the design sessions took place will stay in my memory for a long time.